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PWRDF praises Indigenous midwives on the International Day of the Midwife

May 5, 2023

By Jose Zarate

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Today is International Day of the Midwife (IDM). Every year on May 5, this day honours midwives and the important work that they do all around the world. A 2021 report from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) suggests that access to midwives is the “single most important factor in stopping preventable maternal and newborn deaths.” However, the same report also finds that the world is short 900,000 essential midwives, threatening women’s health and wellbeing globally. Resolving this deficit could prevent two-thirds of maternal and newborn deaths, saving more than 4.3 million lives a year by 2035.

Indigenous peoples in the Americas have midwifery and birthing customs which stem from traditions, knowledge and practices that have been passed from generation to generation. Articles 11, 15, and 24 of the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous People outline the rights of Indigenous people to receive health care in a way that they find suitable. With few exceptions, modern midwifery methods taught in Midwifery Education Schools overlook Indigenous knowledge. Indigenous women organizations in Mexico, Peru and Canada are working hand-in-hand with educational and governmental institutions to overcome this oversight and implement recommendations of the UN Declaration, a commitment reaffirmed in the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

Earlier today, to mark IDM, representatives of PWRDF partner CHIRAPAQ (Peru) and KINAL (Mexico) presented at the Virtual International Day of the Midwife the findings of a mapping of organizations and experiences of Indigenous midwives in the Americas which was completed in 2022. On May 30, CHIRAPAQ and KINAL will also co-host the 11th Continental Conference of the Indigenous Women of the Americas with the Continental Network of Indigenous Women of the Americas (ECMIA). ECMIA is a network of organizations from 23 countries that has been promoting the defence of individual and collective rights of Indigenous women and children for more than two decades.

Traditional Indigenous midwifery is a fundamental part of health care in indigenous communities in Canada, Mexico and Peru, but there is an inadequate recognition of Indigenous midwifery by government health authorities. Midwives must often struggle against discrimination and the undervaluing of their knowledge and contributions to the wellbeing of Indigenous women. And yet, when COVID-19 began to spread globally, midwives began to see an increased demand for care as many people had concerns about COVID-19 infection in hospitals. Many midwives also stepped up to care for people suffering from COVID-19 due to insufficient health services in some regions.

PWRDF works with Indigenous peoples in Canada and Latin America to improve their wellbeing and praises the work accomplished by Indigenous midwives since 2017. PWRDF’s partnership development approach is based on principles of equal respect and trust and ensuring that Indigenous peoples lead the work – identifying the what, how, who, when and where of Indigenous-related projects.

PWRDF partner organizations involved in the Indigenous Midwifery Program of the Americas each have more than 20 years of experience promoting the rights and cultures of Indigenous peoples including traditional knowledge and Indigenous midwifery practices.

In 2021 and 2022, KINAL and CHIRAPAQ both successfully implemented Indigenous midwifery programs. Both have received strong support from the communities they serve, as well as endorsements from their local governments, academia and civil society organizations. During the 2022-2023 regional consultation of Indigenous midwives from Latin America (Mexico, Peru, Colombia, Brazil, Guatemala, Ecuador) and Canada, many expressed interest in further exploring an institutional relationship between all participating Indigenous midwives’ organizations, with the aim of establishing a regional network of Indigenous midwives.

PWRDF acknowledges that Indigenous midwifery knowledge and practice are critical to preserving Indigenous culture. Indigenous midwifery honours people, languages, oral culture, relationships with the land and Indigenous spiritual traditions. It also celebrates the ceremony of birth as an extremely profound and sacred event. With each birth in an Indigenous community, the history of its creation is revived and the Nation is reborn. Indigenous communities need the skills, values ​​and knowledge that Indigenous midwives can share.

Read more about PWRDF’s support of Indigenous Midwifery