Taking Action on International Maternal Health and Rights Day

April 11, the International Day for Maternal Health and Rights, is a day for celebrating the incredible progress made worldwide to improve maternal health and rights worldwide. But it is also a day to call on governments, institutions, and civil society to do more.

There is no doubt we have made significant gains. The No Ceilings report highlighted that there has been a 40 percent reduction in maternal mortality rates in at least 76 countries since 1995. Yet, sadly, this is not enough. Not only are maternal deaths still too high—with a woman dying from pregnancy or childbirth every two minutes—but we are far from having universal rights and access to maternal health and family planning. As the world assesses achievements against the Millennium Development Goals this summer, and the United Nations General Assembly agrees on Sustainable Development Goals in September, now is the time for action.

So how do we put our passion for women’s health into practice? At EngenderHealth, we advocate for and apply a holistic, rights-based approach to maternal health care to address the full continuum of a woman’s sexual and reproductive health needs throughout her life. For many women, pregnancy is the first contact with the health care system, providing an opportunity to integrate services like family planning, HIV care and treatment, and other reproductive health services. There is also an inextricable link between family planning and maternal health: If we could meet the unmet need for contraceptives and family planning, we could prevent 54 million unintended pregnancies, 79,000 maternal deaths, and 1.1 million infant deaths.

Our programs are also grounded in the notion that women’s health is not just about women. Health is as much determined by external forces—inequalities and influencers, such as policymakers, providers, partners, and community members—as by biology. We train health care professionals to provide high-quality services, such as preventing and treating childbirth complications like eclampsia, postpartum hemorrhage, and postabortion care, and we partner with governments, ministries of health, and communities to expand access to life-saving services. We also lead the largest U.S. government–funded fistula program, working to prevent, treat, and reduce the stigma of obstetric fistula, a devastating injury caused by prolonged, obstructed labor. 

EngenderHealth is passionate about women’s health—because when women thrive, so do their families and communities. When women and girls have access to health care and family planning, they go further in their education, earn more, and have healthier children. Raising awareness about the correlation between increased access to family planning and positive health outcomes for women and mothers is one of the reasons we launched our WTFP?! campaign.

On this second International Day for Maternal Health and Rights, we are celebrating progress and need for continued action. Will you take moment to visit our campaign site and ask: Where’s the Family Planning?!