Aisha is a 50 year old woman who has never been through the four walls of a school. To her, human rights means total submission to her husband which includes all forms of domestic and social violence. But can you really blame her? How can she be aware of her rights when all she has known is hardship, been married at the age of 13, overwhelmed with poverty and pushed to hawk to fend for herself, her kids and her husband. Is there really a thing as human rights or does human right have a lot to do with ones social and economic status? Imagine if she was up there in the economic pecking order, would things have been different? The higher one is at the top of that order the less one is even aware of the need to have rights. Because the world makes sure that your rights are taken care of naturally. To these set of people, human rights is a reality. But the lower down the pecking order one is, the less rights one is able to access whether it is rights to clean water, good and quality reproductive health, physical safety in one’s community from one’s family, from one’s government, or just the rights to the air one breathes. To these set of people, human rights remains a hope. One’s access to rights and violations of rights are a function of the accident of where one is born and whether you’re born a boy or girl. As the whole world comes together to celebrate women once again, let’s make it happen for young girls who are trodding the path of Aisha-girls who were born down the pecking order and whose rights the world will naturally not take care of. How can we make this happen? We can do this by empowering young girls, providing them with information and educating them to stand for their rights and take their lives in their hands. A human rights perspective demands that we recognize that providing education for girls, for example, is not only a good development decision but also a question of justice, of individual rights. It leads us to see that tolerating sexual abuse is not just a bad economic choice, in terms of health costs, but also a violation of a woman’s right to bodily integrity. A human rights view reveals that maternal mortality is not only a tragedy because it deprives children of a caregiver but an abrogation of the right of a woman to basic health care. If you Empower and Educate a woman, you Empower and Educate a nation. Together, we can make it happen for young girls and women.
I speak up for babies like Daniel my nephew who will grow up and never experience the love of his biological mother. I still remember the excitement in Ochuwa’s voice as she woke me up at 6:00 am on the 5/05/12 to tell me she was expecting a baby. The thought that I was going to be an aunt was so overwhelming. I spent every spare time I had preparing and helping her plan for her baby’s arrival. On the 13th/12/12 I was sitting by her side in the hospital where she was brought to the previous night by her husband when all of a sudden she had seizure (eclampsia) and she had to be transferred to a National hospital. It took about 9 hours for Ochuwa to be attended to even though her case was an emergency. Then all hell was let loose as her kidneys stopped producing urine and her blood stopped clotting after she had a caesarean section. So here I was in a fix as I watched my sister battle between life and death. The most terrifying part was that as the day went by, she grew from bad to worst. As I sat by her bedside, I remember the few occasions she spoke; she said, where is my baby? I hope he isn’t crying? Too bad she never saw him or held him in her hands as he was in the incubator. The baby I had waited so long to come was in the incubator and Ochi as I popularly called her was lying helplessly with a life support. Her kidneys had shut down, her blood wasn’t clotting, her liver was infected and her lungs were becoming weak. On the 17/12/12 the doctor called me into a room and said she didn’t make it. She had suffered three heart attacks early morning of that next day and didn’t get through the last episode.
According to the World Health Organization, Nigeria accounts for an estimated 14% of maternal deaths worldwide and remains 1 of the 10 most dangerous countries in the world for a woman to give birth. It is estimated that 630 of every 100,000 live births results in a maternal death and another 1 million to 1.6 million suffer from serious disabilities from pregnancy-and birth-related causes annually. It is also reported that, for every women that dies from pregnancy-related causes, 20 to 30 more will develop short- and long-term damage to their reproductive organs resulting in disabilities such as obstetric fistula, pelvic inflammatory disease, a ruptured uterus, etc (World Health Organization (WHO), 2007; Shiffman and Okonofua, 2007). These numbers are records of women that give birth in health facilities. According to 2006 Nigeria Report on MDGs, skilled personnel that is Doctors, Nurses and Midwives in Nigeria attend to only about 38% of deliveries while Traditional Birth Attendants delivered about 20%, relatives or untrained individuals delivered about 25% while 17% are self delivery. It means to say that about 62% of deliveries are done outside health facilities and in most cases are not recorded. This implies that far more women die during child birth than is recorded. The direct causes of maternal mortality in Nigeria are consistent with those in most other developing Countries of Sub-Saharan Africa & South-East Asia; haemorrhage, Obstructed Labour, Sepsis, Hypertensive disorders (pre/ecclampsia), and unsafe/septic abortion. Other factors which are not direct are education, low level of socio economic status of mothers, age at marriage etc. The consequences of maternal mortality go beyond the mother’s death as they also obstruct the development of families, slow economic growth and lead to global productivity losses. Many children in Nigeria and across Africa will live their entire lives without ever knowing their biological mothers as a result. The irony of maternal death is that only few babies actually survive after the death of its mother.
I believe the fundamental right of any woman is her right to safe, quality and free reproductive health. This is where empowerment begins for women. This can only be achieved when women are empowered both academically and financially, because they become more responsible for the health choices they make. In light of this, I advocate that policies and support of the highest level of national authority should be put in place for youth based organization programs and strategies to promote safe motherhood this includes the allocation of adequate financial and human resources, improved infrastructure and communication and effective implementable standards.
Government should encourage meaningful participation by relevant stakeholders including youth based organizations especially those run by young women because this will help develop more effective and sustainable programs, reduce exclusion and enhance accountability. Also, actions such as building capacity for participation of poor and marginalized women should be encouraged.
Maternal health is a barometer of broader trends in development, in health and health capacity, and ultimately in governance and investment on behalf of society’s least powerful citizens which are women and children.