It’s remarkable how we continually get told that the UK is some ghastly, horrible, misogynist society when this is the sort of thing that has happened in recent decades:
Fourteen years ago this week, I discovered I was pregnant with my first child. I was nervous – it was my second pregnancy and I couldn’t be sure I wouldn’t lose this one – and I worried what a child might mean for my life. But at least I did not have to worry about losing my life. The lottery of childbirth – whether a mother would live to see her baby – ended in my family two generations ago when maternal mortality in the UK dramatically improved in the 1930s. The legacy of that great breakthrough is that pregnancy is now usually a cause for celebration, not an occasion to write a will.
What prompted the recollection of an anniversary I’ve not noticed before was the realisation that what I relied on, as a matter of course, is regarded as a luxury in most of the developing world: skilled midwives, an obstetrician and operating theatre if needed, and the antibiotics and drugs that ensured that, 14 years and another two births later, I’m still around to bring up my children. Basic, everyday stuff in the developed world.
But not so in sub-Saharan Africa, where one in every 16 women dies in childbirth. (Since you started reading this article, a woman somewhere in the world has died giving birth.) In the UK, the comparable ratio is one dead woman in every 8,200. Maternal mortality is the most dramatic health inequality on the planet – more stark even than child mortality.
There is plenty of evidence for how, with the right combination of political will and policy, the maternal mortality rate can be dramatically reduced. Thailand cut it by 75% in 18 years; the Matlab region of Bangladesh cut it by two-thirds in 21 years. Yet in 20 years, the rate in sub-Saharan Africa has barely budged.
On any real accounting this is one of the very finest societies the planet has ever seen for women to live in (and men, of course, but that’s not quite the point here). So why are we continually told we’re so awful?