Maternal health is not just a women's issue, but is also an issue of fundamental rights, President Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca said during a Women Political Leaders Global Forum meeting on maternal health of refugee women.
"The phenomenon of human movement has always been part of our global history. Today, more and more people are migrating to escape poverty or to flee conflict. According to last year's indicators from the UN General Assembly, women represent almost half of the world's 244 million migrants; and half of the 19.6 million refugees worldwide.
She quoted the United Nations Economic and Social Council statistics, and said that 60% of preventable maternal deaths take place in humanitarian settings and that at least one in five refugees or displaced women are estimated to have experienced sexual violence.
"It is unacceptable that the voices of refugee and migrant women, are rarely heard during the design or implementation of policies that should address their needs."
"We must call upon our authorities, and our policy makers, to place more focus on the intersectional forms of discrimination which refugee women often face, including, discrimination on the basis of ethnicity, of race, and of poverty. Furthermore, legal and social barriers can prevent vulnerable women, from accessing essential health services. These obstacles are often compounded by a lack of sensitivity to differences of custom or culture."
She quoted from a joint report on migrant women's health, released last year by the European Commission and the World Health Organisation. "Refugee women who are unable to speak the native language, or who come from less affluent parts of the world, are at an increased risk of higher maternal morbidities, mortality and poor perinatal outcomes."
The President said that it is imperative to create stronger synergies between the relevant stakeholders involved in the care of pregnant women and their infants, and to value the voices of migrant and refugee women themselves. "In this way, we can create effective coordinated strategies, for the provision of the necessary care, for these women."
"In this way, also, we can formulate, and implement higher levels of quality care, for the benefit of migrant and refugee women, their families, their communities, and our societies as a whole. We must ensure that the safety and the dignity of migrant and refugee women are at the heart of all policies, which tackle issues of maternal health."
She said that policies must reflect a united and unwavering commitment to universal human rights, "which must be applied equally, and equitably, to all."
The President said that there is a clear need to safeguard all aspects of an expectant mother's experience. "This is especially necessary, because of the vast differences in approach and practice, which characterise the maternal health systems of our different countries. These differences are even present across the member states of the European Union. Accessing effectively, maternal care is made all the more difficult for women migrants, refugees and asylum seekers. We must continuously remember that these women are also coping with the complex traumas of their horrific journeys."
"Migrant and refugee women are dealing with the loss of their families and communities. Many are even struggling to overcome the effects of war, violence, torture, or rape. The physiological, psychological, and social experiences of migrant and refugee women during pregnancy, must therefore, be addressed holistically. Their mental and emotional health must be an integral part of a united, powerful, and far-reaching approach to address the needs of maternal health of migrant and refugee women."
The President believes that migrant and refugee women must be invited to be at the table of discussion, so as to be active participants, in the development of policies. In addition, she believes that migrant and refugee women must be empowered to access services and treatments which are theirs, by right, and that a migration action plan of the European Union must embrace the issue of maternal health for migrant and refugee women.
"We must encourage more training on topics of cultural competence, offered to medical and allied health professionals, students, social workers, teachers, police personnel, and other stakeholders working with migrants and refugees, within the European Union, and across the world," she said. "We must invest in further research, to gain the necessary information about the particular needs of the migrant and refugee women population. In this way, we shall be in a better position to develop appropriate and culturally sensitive health care, while also supporting the maternal health practitioners in our countries to develop new skills."