CEDAW: poverty and lack of health services determine maternal death rates in Latin America and the Caribbean

Mexico City, May 8, 2013 (SEMlac).- Death of women and children related to pregnancy and birth in Latin America and the Caribbean are due to poverty and inequity in the access to health services, said Brazilian lawyer Silvia Pimentel, Chairperson of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) at the UN.

"Every country in the region knows where the problem is concentrated; everyone know why women and children are dying, and they technically know what needs to be done. What is needed is to give priority to problems in order to have effective responses", explained Pimentel, who is in charge to examine the implementation of CEDAW.


"These deaths are unacceptable as the most of them can be avoided" she stated during the international seminar "Network advocacy: Challenges to State compliance with their Commitments to Women's Human Rights" organized by the Latin American Committee for the Defense of Women Rights (CLADEM, by its acronym in Spanish).

CLADEM took in the past the issue of a very high rate of maternal death in Brazil to the UN and got a resolution about the State responsibility on preventable maternal death, that implies abandon and orphanhood of thousands of boys and girls. A precedent has been made, said Brazil representatives at the seminar; nevertheless the persistent problem means a long pending debt.

In 2011, Silvia Pimentel presented the Regional Initiative for Mother and Children that aims to accelerate in the region the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) 4 and 5 of the UN, that hold governments accountable of reducing in two thirds between 1990 and 2015 the mortality in children below five and, also, to decrease maternal mortality in 75% in the same period.

During the session this Wednesday, participants exposed that at least 70 women die every day as a result of pregnancy or birth. Even if the figures decrease each year, this deaths are related to poverty and poor health services that governments should provide and surveillance.

CLADEM representatives from Brazil noted that at least 4,100 women die in that country because of maternal causes.

In Colombia, the figure reaches around 1,200 cases; in Guatemala, 1,300: in Peru 1,500 and more than a thousand in Mexico. In Mexico City alone 138 women died of the above cause.

State irresponsibility, the economic model and gaps between men and women lie behind this issue. And these causes are only mentioned superficially by the MDG. Unsafe abortion is still the fourth cause of maternal death in the Latin American and Caribbean region, that along with a sexist education makes up for a vicious circle.

Haiti is the country with the worst rates in the region, with a 523 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births. Chile has the best figures: 23 deaths per 100,000 live births. Bolivia registers 390 death mothers per 100,000 live births.

The world situation is not that bright either: more than 10 million mother and children die of preventable causes every year. Every minute a pregnant woman dies and every three seconds a boy or a girl below 5 years old dies.

Elba Núñez Ibáñez, regional coordinator of CLADEM, understressed that the MDG and its goals for 2015 are a minimal floor of government commitment, incomplete and insufficient, and still, governments fail. These objectives do not pose the necessary changes to economy culture or the administration of justice, where the main obstacle to progress in the status of women in the world lie, she said.

Participants from different countries agreed during the Seminar that another substantive obstacle is the political weakness of States facing factic powers that hinder the compliance of obligations to the people.

Additionally, the lack of education of women's human rights prevents organized civil society participation to demand their states. A further analysis is needed around the inefficient educational systems and the context of media in the region.

CLADEM has documented eight cases at the Interamerican Commission of Human Rights; three for the UN Human Rights system and one for the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) at the UN, to have set precedent and have paradigmatic cases to inform about.

CLADEM also works to train lawyers around women's rights and gender perspective at a national and regional level. Still, none of these actions oblige governments to in depth reforms of their judiciary system. As a result access to justice for women is a great obstacle for development, along with poverty, lack of decent work and ignorance about their rights.

During the following two days participants from six regional networks an 54 NGO will keep a conversation of new strategies and a new agenda of demands and regional reality.

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