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Birth Rights campaign causes a stir

Posted by Lucy Colbeck Oxfam's Youth and Schools Team

25th Jul 2012

No matter a person's age, gender, nationality, ethnicity or culture - giving birth affects us all. For some it is a distant awareness of a mysterious and sometimes terrifying biological process, for others like Cecilia Addah, the Ghanaian midwife who stars in Oxfam's film about maternal health, it's part of the reality of daily life. 

Here in the UK we take our maternal health rights for granted. Pregnant mums are secure in the knowledge that they will receive regular care in the run up to birth and be able to have their child in a safe environment with trained midwives and doctors on hand. Most of us who haven't or won't experience pregnancy in the near future are unlikely to give this extreme good fortune a second thought or appreciation. 

It is perhaps for this reason that Birth Rights has caused such a stir in the schools it has visited in London and the South East. Youth Action Group (YAG) members at Central Foundation Girls School in Tower Hamlets said "people were shocked because they didn't know that some women don't have birth rights". 

Echoing that sentiment, Miriam Quinn from Sir John Lawes School YAG in Harpenden noted that "people didn't even know it was an issue, but over the course of the lesson it was great to see people gain an understanding of this essential human right".  She said the girls were especially shocked to hear that so many women around the world risked death giving birth. 

Our youth activists have taken various innovative approaches to the Birth Rights campaign. At Sir John Lawes School the YAG members decided to become teachers and designed a lesson plan to teach Year 9 pupils in their school based on the photos in the exhibition. They emphasised the distinction between rural and urban provision for pregnant women in Ghana by dividing the photo boards up and asking the class to make comparisons. Pupils were shocked by the disparity between the two compared with the UK where services are more or less standardised. 

Peer mentoring seems to be a recurring theme with this project. At Central Foundation Girls School and Lady Eleanor Holles School, the YAG members become tour guides, taking pupils and teachers around the exhibition at lunch times. The Central Foundation girls also stitched together a colourful banner (see photo) and pupils viewing the exhibition were invited to write messages on it for Rushanara Ali, their MP and Shadow Minister for International Development. Following this the group met with Ms Ali to present their campaign and banner to her with a letter for Andrew Mitchell. Ms Ali said: "This campaign is very timely and it is a real inspiration to see the girls' passion and commitment."

Finally, it seems the mysterious concept of aid has been unveiled for pupils through the medium of babies and midwives. As well as banners and letters to MPs and ministers, young people have sent around 400 postcards to their local MPs urging them to support the 0.7% aid target for next year. Cecilia the midwife and Ghanaian mothers Adumporka and Selina have brought this otherwise dry topic sharply into focus for our youth activists and their peers at school. 

We'd like to say a big thank you to all the young people who have worked hard to bring this vital issue to the forefront of politician's minds. We are really proud of the creativity, leadership and passion they have displayed in campaigning for decent maternal health rights for women in countries like Ghana. 

Resources for the Birth Rights project 

Participating schools

Lady Eleanor Holles School, Central Foundation Girls School, Berkhamsted School and Sir John Lawes School

Blog post written by Lucy Colbeck

Oxfam's Youth and Schools Team

More by Lucy Colbeck