Respecting women's human rights

Stephen Munjanja, member of the FIGO Women's Health and Human Rights committee, explains how the committee's recent plans will be of particular benefit to Zimbabwe.

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Pictured: committee meeting in Turin, chaired by Professor Chiara Benedetto

The Women’s Health and Human Rights committee promotes the respect to human rights for women’s health as a means to improve the quality of care provided to them.

This is important to Zimbabwe and other sub-Saharan countries as the risk of maternal death and serious complications remains high. Reviews of maternal deaths in Zimbabwe for example show that some of these unfavourable outcomes are due to the failure to respect the rights to life and health of women by health providers.

The fear of being verbally abused or humiliated by nurses and doctors may also lead to delays in women presenting themselves when complications arise, and others may even decide to deliver at home. The level of disrespect of women’s human rights and its impact on their health has been previously underestimated up to now.

Last week I enjoyed the enthusiasm that the committee is putting into the plans for the sexual health and human rights tracks at the forthcoming FIGO Congress, in Brazil. Two additional interventions, discussed during our meeting, will be of potential immediate benefit to Zimbabwe.

The check-list for doctors and nurses working with women is something that can be implemented in Zimbabwe within a short period of time, with a modest expenditure that is affordable to the country. Making health providers constantly aware of the human rights implications of contact with women in the health system, and making them conscious of the quality of care they should be providing.

To multiply the impact of the work of this FIGO committee I would like the national society of obstetricians and gynaecologists in Zimbabwe (and all sub-Saharan African societies) to actively take up the responsibility for advocacy for human rights and women’s health, using the resources provided by FIGO.