Decent work for a midwife is a human right

10 December 2019

Midwifery is a traditional profession that goes back many centuries focused on enhancing and promoting the well-being of mothers throughout pregnancy, birth and caring for their newborn babies. Midwives are selfless in the delivery of their vocation and have relentlessly provided care to those in need. Many midwives work in conflict zones, natural disasters, enduring some deplorable working situations subjecting them to violence and harassment in the workplace. Many work excessive hours to care for women with poor working conditions and low pay. Such conditions are unacceptable and incompatible with the principle of decent work and constitute a violation of human rights because it affects the dignity of a human being.

Research shows that some midwives have to be accompanied by a male relative, and clinics were guarded by security at night due to threats to the midwives’ safety, with one example of a clinic being set on fire. In some contexts, midwifery personnel were extremely vulnerable when attending homes or leaving work late at night, with Ugandan and South African midwives reporting physical attacks. In Bangladesh, despite being accompanied by a porter for night calls, female mobility of midwifery personnel after dark was associated with inviting sexual assault.

As a midwife, I welcome the first-ever Convention and accompanying Recommendation for the elimination of violence and harassment in the world of work which was adopted at the centenary conference of the International Labour Organization (ILO) in Geneva on 21 June 2019 and call to action the midwifery workforce to be adamant in ensuring that the implementation of the convention is put in place by ILO member states.

The ILO convention requires governments worldwide to put in place laws that prohibit and sanction violence and harassment in the world of work. Other key elements are as follows:

  • it guarantees that the world of work must be free of violence and harassment, including gender-based violence.
  • it obliges employers, after consulting workers and their unions, to have a policy for preventing and tackling violence and harassment.
  • it takes an inclusive approach, extending protection to all workers irrespective of their contractual status, including jobseekers, trainees, interns and apprentices, volunteers and others.
  • it clears that violence and harassment involving third parties – whether they are clients, customers, patients, or members of the public – must be considered and addressed.
  • it applies to all sectors, whether private or public, both in the formal and informal economy.

On this 10 December 2019, midwives recognise that the health of mothers and neonates is a human right that needs to be upheld and protected and midwives are at the forefront of protecting this right.

Midwives further recognise that they work in unacceptable working situations with compromised safety.

Midwives welcome the convention and the accompanying recommendation for the elimination of violence and harassment in the world of work and to look at ways of providing safety for all midwives!

By Sylvia P Hamata, Young Midwife Leader, Namibia 2019