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Maternal Mortality and the Empowerment of Women in Haiti Research Paper

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Updated: Jan 22nd, 2022

Introduction: Status of Women in Haiti

In the majority of developing countries, traditional gender roles are still in place. Men are considered to have the upper hand in all aspects of life, whereas women are expected to confine themselves to unpaid household tasks and some other acceptable activities, such as farming and selling goods on the market. It is uncommon for women in developing countries to earn enough money to be independent, as the gender role, which is prescribed to them, “restricts women’s ability to take advantage of employment, education and/or training opportunities even when they are technically available” (Padget and Warnecke 7).

Haiti is no different. Padget and Warnecke claim that “in Haiti, women have long been considered second-class citizens” (7). Nowadays, however, “Haiti’s Constitution protects women from workplace discrimination as well as physical and sexual abuse, and guarantees the right to political participation” (USAID). Nevertheless, the first anti-rape law was not enacted 2005, and even now that the rights of women are protected by the Constitution, the government has no effective means of controlling domestic violence and sexual harassment (USAID). In a patriarchal society, such as Haiti, women’s reproductive rights are not respected, which leads to various health problems, including maternal mortality, and in order to solve these issues, significant changes have to be made both to the society and to the country’s health care system.

Statistics and Causes of Maternal Mortality in Haiti

Haiti’s statistics of maternal mortality are, indeed, horrifying: “the lifetime risk of dying from complications of childbirth for a Haitian woman is 1 in 83” (Séraphin et al. 1401). Most of the reasons for such a high rate of maternal mortality in Haiti are similar to those in other developing countries. For instance, access to health care for pregnant women is limited: Huber states, “the country has 2·7 million women of childbearing age and only 600 obstetricians” (641). Furthermore, since abortion is illegal in Haiti, and contraception is not available to the majority of the population, unsafe abortion, performed in anti-sanitary conditions by untrained assistants, accounts for 40 percent of maternal deaths (Huber 642). Other reasons include poverty, malnutrition, and lack of qualified assistance during childbirth; it is reported that, as of 2010, “Just over 50 % of pregnant women complete the recommended four antenatal care visits and only 25 % of pregnant women deliver at a health facility” (Séraphin et al. 1401).

Addressing High Maternal Mortality in Haiti

The issue of high maternal mortality remains one of the most significant for the government of the country. There have been numerous efforts to make effective changes to Haiti’s health system in order to lower the risk of death in childbirth, such as providing free contraception, training more midwives to account for the insufficient number of obstetricians (Huber 641). In addition, “The health ministry is in favour of liberalising abortion laws to allow for the procedure in the case of rape, incest, or when the life of the mother or fetus is endangered” (Huber 642), however, it is unclear when or if there will be any significant changes to the current illegal status of abortion.

Another considerable influence on maternal mortality rate comes from the activities of various NGOs. For instance, USAID aims to combat malnutrition, address the spread of HIV/AIDS, and provide quality training for medical specialists to assist in pregnancy and childbirth (USAID), whereas UNFPA supports the functioning of maternal care units, providing basic yet much needed emergency care: “these maternity centres – often called ‘Smile Clinics’ – are among the most active in the country, and are serving as a model facilities for the health ministry” (UNPFA). Another important initiative of USAID is to provide support and stable income to poor women in Haiti. A lot of maternal health problems result from the women’s inability to make their private health and reproduction choices due to their lack of financial and social independence from men. Therefore, this project also has a strong influence on maternal mortality.

Due to the efforts of both the government and various humanitarian and human rights organizations, the maternal death rate in Haiti has dropped from 620 in 100 000 in 1990 to 350 per 100 000 births in 2010 (Séraphin et al. 1401), but the number is still several times as high as in the rest of the Caribbean and will probably take a few more years or even decades before the changes made to the health infrastructure are finally substantial enough to lower the rate down to normal.

Maternal Mortality in the USA

At first, it would seem that high maternal mortality is an issue that does not extend beyond developing countries. However, according to Burn, this is not necessarily true for the US. Indeed, our health system is a lot more developed and effective; however, there are still issues that need to be taken into consideration. For instance, “in industrialized nations such as the United States, medical training and research have disproportionately focused on men, and medical insurance costs more for women than for men and often doesn’t cover contraception” (42). Furthermore, race is also a factor when it comes to health care provision. Burn claims that maternal mortality rate for African American women in the US is almost four times higher than for white women, which is due to the fact that “quantity and quality of reproductive health care available to pregnant women […] are unequally distributed in favor of wealthier nations, urban locations, and social groups with higher incomes and education” (43). The goal for the US government is to make certain adjustments to the health care system to make high-quality medical assistance available to all people irrespective of their education level, income, and race.

Conclusion: What Can Be Done?

The most important step in lowering maternal mortality rate and making necessary changes to women’s health care in Haiti is to accept and promote women’s right to make independent health choices, as well as educating women on what those rights are: “women’s reproductive rights are a critical transnational feminist issue because of the intimate relationship between women’s reproductive choice and their status, power, economic situation, and health” (Burn 41). Of course, the main responsibility for making fundamental constitutional changes and rebuilding the health care system lies on the government; however, the help of ordinary people from all over the world cannot be underestimated. Supporting different NGOs in combatting the issue of gender inequality, as well as raising awareness about maternal mortality and other gender inequality issues, are vital tasks that every person is capable of performing, regardless of race, gender, income, or country of residence.


Burn, Shawn Megan. “Reproductive Health and Reproductive Rights.” Women across Cultires: A Global Perspective. 3rd ed. New York: McGraw Hill, 2005. 40-65. Print.

Huber, Bridget. “Haiti’s Push for Safe Motherhood.” The Lancet 386.9994 (2015): 641-42. Web.

Padgett, Andrew, and Tonia Warnecke. “Diamonds in the rubble: the women of Haiti institutions, gender equity and human development in Haiti.” Journal of Economic Issues 45.3 (2011): 527+. Biography in Context. Web.

Séraphin, Marie Nancy, Ismael Ngnie-Teta, Mohamed Ag Ayoya, Maria R. Khan, Catherine W. Striley, Ellen Boldon, Aissa Mamadoultaibou, Jean Ernst Saint-Fleur, Leslie Koo, and Miliane Clermont. “Determinants of Institutional Delivery Among Women of Childbearing Age in Rural Haiti.” Maternal and Child Health Journal 19.6 (2014): 1400-407. Web.

UNFPA 2015, “Slashing Haiti’s Maternal and Infant Death Rates, One Delivery at a Time”. UNFPA. Web.

USAID 2016, “Gender Equity and Women’s Empowerment.” U.S. Agency for International Development. Web.

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