In March of 2017, Cuso International and the Canadian Association of Midwives (CAM) organized a Gender Equality and Social Inclusion (GESI) Workshop in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, with a specific emphasis on Respectful Maternity Care (RMC) for in-service midwives from the four target countries of the Midwives Save Lives (MSL) project: Ethiopia, Benin, Tanzania, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The hands-on 4-day workshop provided participants with the opportunity for professional development and learning, connecting principles around gender equality with the concept of Respectful Maternity Care. One of the goals of the MSL Project is to facilitate exchanges between midwives from the four target countries, creating opportunities to discuss best practices, to learn from each other’s contexts and to stimulate ideas for innovative change. The workshop was the project’s first gathering of midwives from all participating countries. There were many passionate and deeply personal exchanges as midwives shared experiences from their own contexts as well as their own lives. Speaking about the double burden of reproductive work (unpaid home-based) and productive work (paid outside the home), one midwife shared: “We have to do something to change this! We all have experienced this kind of double burden”. The workshop provided an opportunity for reflection as well as an opportunity for thinking pragmatically about what change could look like in each midwife’s work and cultural contexts.
“There is something very special when midwives meet. We always have an instant connection. I think this comes from both the intensity and the universality of the work that we do, all those sleepless nights spent at the intersection of life and death. Our daily work with pain and joy, with loss and power, with struggle and triumph. In spite of all the varied settings in which we work, we share many of the same worries and victories and ideas for change.”
– Katrina Kilroy, CAM president
A full day of the 3-day workshop was dedicated to Respectful Maternity Care (RMC), with one session being co-facilitated by CAM President, Katrina Kilroy, and CAM Board Member Claudia Faille. The midwife representatives from Canada led a group discussion about Respectful Maternity Care and how it is linked to gender.
Drawing from resources created by the White Ribbon Alliance’s global campaign for Respectful Maternity Care, the Canadian midwives worked together with midwives from each of the four MSL target countries to reflect on how gender inequality and social exclusion affect their clients and their midwifery practice. Midwives from all countries shared ideas about how to identify and combat abuse and disrespect in their national settings. Kilroy admits that she and Faille found the facilitation of the workshop – in two languages and across 5 cultures – to be challenging at times, “but it felt very satisfying to know we could have meaningful dialogues and develop an action plan despite our differences”.
The day culminated with a fascinating presentation of Action Plans to address gender equality and RMC challenges from each of the four countries represented. The action plans developed will be carried out throughout the MSL Project. For example, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, content on RMC will be incorporated into training courses for in-service midwives (i.e., emergency skills training). This work is already underway, with a team of midwives and gynecologists in the DRC working with two Canadian midwife consultants to carry this out alongside a revision of the emergency skills manual. A call to action is also being developed based on three key themes identified by workshop participants: Respectful Maternity Care, a reduction in gender-based violence and recognition of the midwifery profession.