A lack of awareness about women’s human rights among health professionals working in maternity care is intended to be tackled with new guidance published today.
The guidance, mainly aimed at midwives, lays out the key human rights relevant to maternity services, such as the right to life, to not be treated in an inhuman way and to a private life.
“Women’s human rights are at stake in their maternity care and there’s a lack of awareness of these issues”
It shows how such rights are linked to issues like providing access to maternity services, assessing the need for pain relief, encountering female genital mutilation and ensuring patient involvement in treatment and care.
Designed to offer “practical assistance when navigating difficult decisions”, the guidance contains examples of everyday practice where human rights should be considered, as well as flow charts to help identify whether practitioners are complying with legislation under the Human Rights Act.
It also features examples of court cases involving maternity care where there were breaches of human rights laws by healthcare staff.
Whistleblowing in relation to breaches of human rights is also featured in the guidance, produced jointly by the Royal College of Midwives and charity Birthrights in collaboration with the British Institute of Human Rights.
The guide reminds practitioners tat the Human Rights Act, which contains a list of all 16 rights, was designed as a framework to avoid cases being taken to court.
“Health practitioners have a responsibility as guardians of women’s human rights, to ensure we are aware of exactly what these are”
It can be used to inform practice – such as challenging decisions with colleagues – and can be used to hold health services to account, said the document, called Midwifery and Human Rights: A practitioner’s guide.
Birthrights chief executive Rebecca Schiller said the guidance was needed to improve awareness of women’s human rights among healthcare professionals.
“From the advice Birthrights provide to pregnant women and their families and the training we undertake with midwives and doctors, it’s clear that women’s human rights are at stake in their maternity care and that there’s a lack of awareness of these issues amongst healthcare professionals,” she said.
Olivia Armshaw, a midwife who helped to develop the guide, added: “The care a birthing woman receives during her pregnancy and childbirth can have long-lasting effects – psychological, emotional physical and social.
“During this important time, her basic human right to control what others do to her body, is susceptible to violation,” she said. ”So health practitioners have a responsibility as guardians of women’s human rights, to ensure we are aware of exactly what these are, and how to protect and promote them.”
Carmel Lloyd, the RCM’s head of education, described the guide as an “invaluable tool” for midwives.
“Human rights are central to the promotion of women’s health and wellbeing, as well as to the provision of high quality maternity care, and this guide will enable midwives and other practitioners in the maternity services to provide better care for women,” she said.