CRR in the Field: Mónica Arango Olaya

Since 1992, the Center's innovative legal work has fundamentally transformed the landscape of reproductive health and rights worldwide, and has already strengthened laws and policies in more than 50 countries. CRR in the Field is a personal look at the various ways Center staff interacts with plaintiffs, policy makers, governing bodies, and supporters at home and abroad to further the fight for reproductive rights.

Name: Mónica Arango Olaya
Position: Legal Adviser for Latin America and the Caribbean
Reporting from: Brazil

Mónica travelled to Brazil to follow up on the Center's maternal mortality case, Alyne da Silva Pimentel v. Brazil, before the CEDAW Committee and to conduct advocacy around preventable maternal mortality.

Q: What is Brazil doing to address maternal mortality? What more should the government be doing?

A: Brazil has enacted policies and programs to eliminate preventable maternal deaths, but efforts are still insufficient. Profound gender and racial disparities inform the access to healthcare, including maternal healthcare services. Maternal mortality rates are evidence of the social and economic reality of a country as well as its population's quality of life. But in Brazil, that is not the case. The disparity between the country's economic development and its maternal death rates proves that there needs to be more consistent action.

The government should make the reduction of maternal mortality a health priority and pay particular attention to the disparities and inequalities in accessing quality maternal healthcare services for afro-Brazilian women. It should strengthen the existing maternal mortality committees and take other steps to ensure effective accountability for the lack of quality maternal healthcare services and the discrimination in access. Beyond numbers, it is well-established that maternal deaths are almost always preventable. No preventable maternal death is acceptable.

Q: Are civil society groups actively engaging around maternal mortality as a human rights issue in Brazil?

A: Yes. There is a large local community committed to the promotion and protection of women's rights, including the rights related to safe pregnancy. Many civil society groups have worked together with the Center in raising the issue of maternal mortality and human rights. For example, last year the Center, together with the Center for Citizenship and Reproduction, hosted a convening on maternal mortality and human rights in Sao Paulo. The seminar's objective was to discuss the situation of maternal mortality in Brazil from a human rights perspective as well as possible actions to reduce it. The participants included civil society groups, doctors, and national and international experts on public health and human rights.

Q: Has bringing a case before the CEDAW Committee had an impact in Brazil?

A: While the case has not been decided yet, the fact that it has been presented before an international United Nations human rights mechanism has raised the profile of the issue. Likewise, it has allowed us to position the issue on the public agenda and has brought together experts and civil society to design and discuss strategies to address this situation.

Q: What is the importance of this case?

A: This case is addressing a tragic widespread reality in the region and the world: women die when giving birth or due to its related causes when they shouldn't. These kinds of deaths are preventable, and it's important to draw the international human rights agenda to recognize this and generate a public discussion around it.

This is the first case before a UN treaty monitoring body that deals with maternal mortality as a human rights issue, and the implications of a decision in such a context are immense. As a precedent, it would reaffirm the state responsibility for the systemic failure to prevent maternal mortality. It is highlighting a pervasive problem, and at the same time it's giving Brazil the opportunity to set an example to finally step-up to its commitments and promise to guarantee women their most basic human rights.