Creating a supportive environment for maternal and newborn health requires challenging the social, cultural and economic barriers that perpetuate gender inequity.
The enabling environment for safe motherhood and childbirth depends particularly on the care and attention provided to pregnant women and newborns by communities and families, the acumen of skilled health personnel and the availability of adequate health-care facilities, equipment, and medicines and emergency care when needed.
Statistics indicate that for each additional year of education achieved by 1,000 women, two maternal deaths will be prevented. Research shows that maternal mortality is also reduced by better knowledge about health-care practices, expanded use of health services during pregnancy and birth, improved nutrition and increased spacing between births – all factors that are fostered by girls’ education. Women and girls are empowered when they have adequate knowledge about reproductive health, sexuality and HIV and AIDS, and can make decisions regarding these issues.
Promoting gender equality
Since discrimination against girls and women is known to begin early, promoting gender equality and respect for the rights of women and encouraging fathers to play active roles in child care, should begin with early childhood education programs.
Ending child marriage
Gender inequalities and discrimination lie at the root of child marriage. Birth registration, the establishment of minimum ages for marriage, and interventions designed to change community and social norms are important supportive measures to inhibit child marriage and, consequently, delay the age of first pregnancy.
Abandoning female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C)
FGM/C is a reflection of gender inequality and discrimination, a form of violence against girls. It can have grave consequences during childbirth, including significantly increased risk of such adverse events as prolonged or obstructed labour and post-partum haemorrhage. Death rates are also higher for infants born to mothers who have undergone this harmful practice. For both women and their babies, the dangers during childbirth increase significantly according to the severity of the mutilation suffered.
Empowering women's participation
Enabling women to participate more equally in the critical and routine decision-making processes that affect their lives, and those of their children, is pivotal to creating a supportive environment for maternal and newborn health. When women are able to participate in key decisions in the family, community, economic, social and political life, they are more likely to ensure that their children are well nourished and to seek appropriate medical care for themselves and their children. Enhancing women’s ability to participate in household decisions is only.
Involving men and adolescent boys
Involving men in the care of their pregnant partners and newborn children can be a significant opportunity to establish a positive, supportive relationship that will last a lifetime. Evidence has shown that men are more likely to be engaged, participatory fathers when they feel positive about themselves and their relationships, and when families and friends support their involvement in their children’s lives. A man who shares the responsibility for parenthood is also more likely to share the household decision making with his female partner, thereby contributing to her own empowerment.