September 22, 2016

Safe Birth, Everywhere

Written by Joy Marini, Executive Director, Worldwide Corporate Contributions

“The health and rights of women in humanitarian and conflict settings cannot be an afterthought. Without the protection of family and community, women and adolescents are at greater risk. These services are as vital as water, food and shelter.”

 – H.R.H. Crown Prince Mary of Denmark, speaking at United Nations Population Fund Safe Birth Even Here event

I hear the stories of women giving birth in the desert and beneath underpasses, out of reach of a skilled birth attendant or a clean, safe, dignified facility. They are refugees. They’ve fled their homes, seeking safety and hope following conflict or natural disaster.

While the conditions they are fleeing are harsh, the conditions they face in refugee camps are often harsh, too. And every day, nearly 500 women will die giving birth in areas affected by, or prone to conflict or natural disasters.

The crisis before us is at an unprecedented scale. By the end of 2015, 65.3 million individuals — roughly the population of the entire United Kingdom — were forcibly displaced as a result of persecution, conflict, generalized violence, or human rights violations. According to UNFPA, 75 percent of people affected by conflict and natural disaster were women and children.

Their stories are at last taking center stage. And more members of the global community are understanding that, without attention to people in fragile environments, the targets laid out in the Sustainable Development Goals and a vision for a healthy world will be difficult, if not impossible to achieve.

Yesterday in New York, Johnson & Johnson and five other private sector companies joined UNFPA, the government of Denmark, and others to pledge support for Safe Birth Even Here, a campaign to raise awareness and take action to increase support for women and girls in fragile settings.

Johnson & Johnson has a long legacy of working to advance the health of the world’s most vulnerable people. Currently, we have programs in one-third of settings classified as “fragile.” Strong partnerships have been critical to making a difference, and over time, we’ve learned that we must be flexible about what we can achieve, and be ready to course-correct as needed.

Martin Bille Hermann, Secretary of State for Development Policy in Denmark, put it succinctly: “If we are serious about rights, and SDG5, we must address the unique vulnerabilities facing women and girls, and provide necessary services.”

I think of that woman I learned about, who gave birth under an underpass in Eastern Europe. She said that even though it happened in a terrible place, the day she gave birth was still the most amazing day of her life.

It’s energizing and heartening to see more organizations from the private and public sectors coming forward to have this tough but important conversation, and take action. There are solutions to helping all women and girls — even those in fragile settings — give birth safely and with the dignity they deserve. And it’s up to all of us to deliver.

To learn more about the Safe Birth Even Here campaign, please visit: