Protecting human rights in childbirth

Registered Charity Number 1151152

International Women’s Day 2024: Our Submission to the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women and Girls

March 8th is International Women’s Day: a day to recognise the achievements of women around the world, to honour and support the courageous work of defenders of women’s human rights everywhere, as well as to amplify women’s voices and stand behind their calls to action. Since receiving UN recognition in 1977, this commemoration has grown into a rallying cry to build support for women’s rights, and participation in all arenas of society.

Learn more about the history of International Women’s Day

Women’s rights, bodily autonomy and self-agency continue to face erosion, and the lives of women and girls everywhere continue to be harmfully impacted by violations of their human rights. At Birthrights, we stand with women and birthing people around the world and in the UK who are fighting for their human rights. Our work to ensure all women and birthing people across the UK can access safe maternity care that respects their fundamental human rights has never been more urgent.

International Women’s Day is a reminder of how much progress still needs to be made to achieve gender equality and eradicate the persistent and systematic discrimination and violence women and girls face in all areas, including access to maternity care.

At the heart of different forms of violence against women and birthing people in maternity care is a consistent failure to listen to their voices and a complete disregard for their fundamental human rights. There is a failure from the Government to understand how the UK human rights laws apply to maternity care and the fact that it is obliged to uphold these rights.  This lack of understanding causes breaches of human rights that have disproportionately negative and trauma-inducing outcomes for women and birthing people from marginalized communities.

With this in mind, we recently submitted evidence to the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women and Girls during an official visit to the UK in February.

Our Policy & Campaigns Manager, Elif, explains why the UN Special Rapporteur is so important:

The UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women and Girls is an independent human rights expert who reports and advises on violence against women as a human rights violation issue through undertaking country visits, writing communications to States on individual cases, and engaging in advocacy and awareness raising on violence against women.

The current Special Rapporteur’s official visit to the UK provided an important chance by an independent expert to monitor closely the UK Government’s policies and actions to fight against violence against women as a human rights violation.

By submitting evidence, we used this opportunity to direct attention to the different forms of violence directed against women and birthing people in maternity care, and to inform about the current issues faced by women and birthing people based on the knowledge and experience that we gain directly from women and birthing people and healthcare professionals through our advice service and trainings.

Here are the recommendations we made in our evidence submission:

  • To eliminate violence experienced by women and birthing people in maternity care, human rights must be centred in how maternity services are funded, delivered, designed, managed and regulated by the Government so that bodily autonomy, self-agency and informed decisions are respected
  • The government should ensure that all decisions made by Trusts must take account of the disproportionate impact on some women and birthing people including Black and Brown women and birthing people, LGBTQIA+ people and those with additional and specific needs such as those living with trauma, disabilities, and/or neurodiversity.
  • Interpreting services must be high quality and appropriately regulated so HCPs have the necessary tools to ensure that women and birthing people can have the information they need to make informed decisions.
  • Rights-respecting care cannot be delivered, and violence experienced by women and birthing people cannot be eliminated without sufficient meaningful investment in maternity services and transparency in decision-making.
Click here to download & read our full evidence submission

The Special Rapporteur shared her preliminary findings to the Government officials at the end of the visit and will present her full report to the UN Human Rights Council in June 2025. We were disappointed not to see violence in maternity care linked to Violence Against Women & Girls in the Rapporteur’s initial findings, but await the full report in 2025.

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