|© UNICEF/HQ08-0302/Susan Markisz|
In order to improve maternal and newborn health, it is important to fight violence and abuse against women and girls. Studies from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the recent United Nations studies on violence against women and children have shown high levels of abuses. Violence against women and girls increase the risk of poor physical and reproductive outcomes. Female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) is a violation of the rights of women and girls and a form of violence that is estimated to have been undergone by around 70 million girls and women aged 15–49 in 27 countries of Africa and the Middle East. FGM/C can significantly increase the risk of complications during delivery.
According to a WHO study, the practice can cause increased bleeding and infection and leads to an additional one to two perinatal deaths per 100 deliveries. Other forms of violence, including physical violence and rape can lead to many health problems for mothers and children. It is important to establish laws that protect the rights of women and girls and ensure that these laws are respected and reinforced. It is also important to create a culture that is respectful of the rights of women.
Supporting women within the home and in society as a whole may have beneficial effects for maternal and newborn health. For example, when women are able to make important decisions in the household, they are more likely to ensure that their children are well nourished and seek appropriate medical care for themselves and their children.
When women are empowered to participate in their communities, they can challenge the attitudes and practices that entrench gender discrimination and work in ways to improve maternal and newborn health. Men can also be partners in this task. Evidence has shown that men are more likely to be engaged fathers when they feel positive about themselves and their relationships and when families and friends support their involvement in their children’s lives.