When a Mother Bleeds to Death, a Nation Bleeds

By Rachel Marie Stone 06-14-2012
Ugandan woman photo, Nigel Pavitt / Getty Images

Ugandan woman photo, Nigel Pavitt / Getty Images

Stories like this one remind me that listening to women’s voices can be a matter of life and death, and not in the whole “Adam-listened-to-Eve” type of way.

Impassioned women of all ages are petitioning Uganda’s highest court to declare that “when women die in childbirth it is a violation of their rights.” So far, their bids in the lower courts have been unsuccessful, but they’re pressing on.

$60 million. 

That’s what it would take to hire enough medical workers to meet Uganda’s needs—specifically, to staff village health clinics that lack people and supplies to the degree that an estimated 16 pregnant women die needlessly each day. 

It’s not that the money is not available, say analysts—Uganda spent more than ten times that amount on Russian-built fighter planes last year, though they were not and are not at war—it’s that the Ugandan government isn’t making maternal health a priority.

A woman in Uganda has a one in 35 lifetime chance of dying in childbirth; just 42 percent of births are attended by skilled practitioners. By contrast, a US woman’s lifetime risk of dying in childbirth is just one in 2100; virtually 100 percent of births are attended by skilled practitioners. 

“The point here is not the money,” said Samuel Lyomoki, a lawyer who has joined in the call for action. “The problem here is a lack of commitment.”

But for the women pursuing an official declaration of their right to birth safely, commitment doesn’t appear to be flagging. Their willingness to speak up and insist that the government calls maternal death by its right name—a violation—may be what it takes to provoke the will to end preventable maternal death in Uganda as well as the rest of Sub-Saharan Africa.

Because when a woman bleeds, so does a nation. So does the world. 

A more peaceful world is delivered by more midwives, not more munitions.

Speak on, sisters. Speak on.

Rachel Stone is a writer living in Greenport, N.Y. She has contributed to Relevant, Books and Culture, Christianity Today, and Flourish, and blogs at RachelMarieStone.com. Her book, Eat with Joy: Redeeming God’s Gift of Food, is forthcoming from IVP in February.

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