In August 2011, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) struck a blow for women worldwide when it recognized—in the first preventable maternal death case to go before an international human rights body—that governments have an inescapable obligation to guarantee maternal health services to every woman regardless of her circumstances.
CEDAW delivered the decision to the Brazilian government, which bore the responsibility for the tragic and entirely avoidable death of Alyne da Silva Pimentel, a poor Afro-Brazilian woman who was repeatedly denied timely quality medical care. The landmark ruling offered some measure of justice to Alyne’s family, including the young daughter she left behind.
But a year has passed, and nothing has changed. While Brazil has significantly reduced its number of maternal deaths, the government still isn’t doing enough to save the lives of pregnant poor, rural, and women of African descent who have a more difficult time than wealthier Brazilians getting quality reproductive health services. When a violation of an international law has not been fully repaired, that violation persists.
The Center has held several constructive meetings with Brazilian officials, but as of today the government continues to drag its feet in instituting concrete policy changes. And one year after this landmark decision, which demanded that the government make reparations to Alyne’s survivors, her family has not received one Brazilian real for their suffering.
Alyne died 10 years ago. Her daughter has already lived far longer without her mother than with her. She deserves just compensation for the pain and hardship she’s suffered, just as all women deserve quality maternal care as a human right.
If the Brazilian government is going to protect the health and lives of all women in the country and reaffirm that commitment on the world’s stage, its officials need to recognize the gravity of CEDAW’s decision, their responsibility to all Brazilian women, and their duty to Alyne’s family. The time for change and progress is now.