By Hannah McCauley, Senior Research Associate (Midwifery), CMNH
International Women’s Day and Mother’s Day make March 2018 a month to focus on all women throughout the world. The theme for this year’s International Women’s Day is Press for progress. With the World Economic Forum's 2017 Global Gender Gap Report findings revealing that gender parity is over 200 years away - there has never been a more important time to keep motivated and #PressforProgress. Global activism for women's equality has recently been fuelled by movements like #MeToo, #TimesUp and others and there is a renewed momentum striving for gender parity.
In September 2015, the world adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) with increasing focus on equity and inclusiveness in the post-2015 period. Ending all forms of discrimination against women and girls is not only a basic human right, but it also crucial to accelerating sustainable development. Sustainable Development Goal 5 focuses on gender equality and empowering all women and girls. It has been proven that empowering women helps drive up economic growth and development across the board. There are still huge inequalities in the labour market globally with women being denied equal access to jobs. Huge barriers exist that must be challenged and eliminated including sexual violence and exploitation, the unequal division of unpaid care and domestic work, and discrimination in public office.
Linked closely with SDG 5’s focus on empowerment of women, is SDG 3 which focuses on good health and wellbeing. SDG 3 aims to reduce maternal mortality rates globally and support women to not only survive childbirth but thrive afterwards. The Centre for Maternal and Newborn Health’s vision to end preventable maternal deaths, stillbirths and early neonatal deaths and improve the health of mothers and babies in low and middle-income countries aims to contribute to SDG 3. Through the maternal morbidity study recently conducted by the centre, we have developed evidence to show that poor economic status is associated with poor maternal health. Socio-economic empowerment programmes, through income generating schemes, directed at women can help break the close link between poverty and poor maternal health outcomes. Education is key in breaking this link as it leads to greater financial independence which will not only empower girls, but will also enable them to access health care and influence their maternal health-related choices when they attain reproductive age. Education also keeps girls in school and can delay early marriage.
Working in the Centre for Maternal and Newborn Health, which exists to research what works to improve the availability and quality of care for mothers and babies across the world, is a privilege. Having worked in the NHS for more than 10 years and realising how much progress has been made in maternity care in the UK over that time, I am honoured to be working as part of the CMNH team and in a position where CMNH can impact policy and practice globally through providing evidence for what works where and how through rigorous implementation research. Improving care for the women and their babies in low and middle-income countries has been a hidden agenda for many years with still too little investment in this area. Would this be the case if men were having children?
The fact that CMNH is headed up by a woman who is a world leader in Women’s Global Health and also with so many experts in LSTM who are female gives me a unique opportunity to be in an environment that forges positive visibility of women. My mother is a role model of mine; she has 14 children, a degree in biology and continues to inspire me daily. She was among the first generation of women in Ireland to go to University and now all of her children have graduated from university. I plan to be a positive female role model to my sisters, brothers, nieces, nephews and indeed everyone that I come into contact with. I believe that we will see a significant change in my lifetime. What can you do to support this change?
This year International Women’s Day’s campaign aims to highlight the individual part everyone has to play and asks for a personal pledge to #PressforProgress and:
- maintain a gender parity mindset
- challenge stereotypes and bias
- forge positive visibility of women
- influence others' beliefs and actions
- celebrate women's achievements
The key to making International Women's Day successful is shared ownership and collective action and advocacy. Gloria Steinem, world-renowned feminist, journalist and activist once explained "The story of women's struggle for equality belongs to no single feminist nor to any one organization but to the collective efforts of all who care about human rights”. By highlighting the day to friends, colleagues and family we can motivate each other, unite and see significant changes to gender parity being made this year, this month, today!
See how CMNH staff celebrated International Women's Day here.
About the author
Hannah McCauley has been practising as a dual trained nurse and midwife for over 13 years, both in the UK and in low and middle income settings. Prior to her appointment in LSTM, she was a Clinical Sister and Manager in a midwifery led unit and labour ward in Northern Ireland. She worked in Uganda with VSO as a Maternal Health Specialist for 2 years. She is passionate regarding improving the quality of care for women and their new-born babies, supporting women’s choices in pregnancy and childbirth and promoting and empowering midwives in their professional role, both in the UK and internationally.