CAM hosted its first Global Symposium on Reproductive Health and Rights in October. Over 200 attendees, including CAM member midwives, midwives from the Global South, and interested international development practitioners listened to more than twenty speakers from Canadian and international NGOs, and fellow midwifery associations from around the world.
Conversations throughout the day revolved around two anchoring themes: that everyone should have the right to full sexual and reproductive health services, wherever they are in the world, and that midwives play a vital role in ensuring that people, especially women and girls, can access reproductive and sexual health and rights.
Women Working Together: North‑South Collaboration and the Struggle for Equity
Dr. Sebalda Leshabari, General Secretary of the Tanzania Midwives Association, reminded the audience that, “We need well‑educated midwives who are able to question the systems they work in – that’s what will save lives.” Throughout the day, this message resonated: when fully trained, and when supported by a strong association that can amplify individual voices into collective power, midwives can be powerful advocates fighting for transformation in their contexts.
Dr. Karline Wilson‑Mitchell, Director of Midwifery at Ryerson University, who has worked in multiple contexts in the Global South, spoke of the transformative power of equitable partnerships. The midwifery model of collaboration, of working together as equals, can be a model for development practice everywhere. Speaking from her own personal experience of collaboration for sustainable change, she pointed out that “We need to learn with, from, and about all the partners sitting at the table. That way, we co‑create knowledge and build equality.”
The keynote speaker, Dr. Peter Johnson, Director of Nursing and Midwifery at Jhpiego and a midwife, began by noting that, “to be a midwife is to be a mentor, an advocate, and a leader.” He reflected on the successes of Jhpiego’s work with midwives, work that begins from the premise that when you work with midwives, you work for mothers, you work for babies, and you work for communities – in all of these areas, midwives are vital forces for change. He reminded Canadian midwives of their expert knowledge about the challenges and possibilities of supporting women and families in rural areas – Canada is a rural nation, and despite our many differences with countries in the Global South, we face similar challenges about access to healthcare for rural and remote communities. Dr. Johnson ended with an inspiring call to action: midwives can make stronger contributions to building sustainable and healthy communities and families, when they collaborate with other professions and lift those professions up.
The panel discussions that followed included: the challenges of providing access to full‑spectrum reproductive healthcare and rights; models for best practice in monitoring rights‑based sexual and reproductive health programming; the complexities of engaging various groups in questioning and challenging gendered power relationships; and some of the ways Indigenous midwives are making their voices heard and enabling change. Finally, Ambroccka Kabeya, President of the Congolese Midwives Association, and Siama Lako Lado, South Sudan Midwife Analyst at UNFPA, spoke to the group about the power of partnerships.