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Muslims act on maternal mortality

18 October 2013

AT OUR MOTHERS' FEET

Campaign: Saif Ahmad and Baroness Tonge at the At Our Mothers' Feet reception, on 8 August 

Campaign: Saif Ahmad and Baroness Tonge at the At Our Mothers' Feet reception, on 8 August 

A STATEMENT endorsed by 46 Muslim scholars highlighting the Qur'an's teaching about the rights of mothers is one of the successes of a "milestone" project that seeks to engage the British Muslim community in tackling maternal mortality abroad.

The At Our Mothers' Feet project is run by MADE in Europe, which seeks to mobilise Muslim communities to take action on global poverty. In 2010, the project received funding from the Department for International Development (DfID). Last week, an evaluation of the project, conducted by the Vicar of St John's, Great Ilford, the Revd Jonathan Evens, was launched in the House of Commons.

The report shows that, before the project, 18 out of 51 Muslim NGOs in the UK were engaged in some form of activity related to maternal health. There was a "narrow programmatic focus" on "less controversial aspects", and a "seeming reluctance to engage their supporters". MADE decided that, in order to raise the issue's profile in the NGO sector, it would need to engage religious and community leaders "to explicitly set out the Islamic context", and "break down cultural taboos and stereotypes".

Besides the statement, released on World Health Day in 2011, Muslim scholars who had met with MADE discussed maternal health in sermons, blogs, and on TV shows.

The evaluation reports that 29 community workshops were delivered by MADE, attended by 776 people (the target agreed with the DfID was 600). It highlights one held with a group of women from Somalia - where one in 16 women die during pregnancy or childbirth. Many who attended were brought to tears, and the group began fund-raising to help improve infrastructure in the country. The final strand of the project involved inviting Muslim NGOs to workshops. To date, 14 have pledged to increase their work on maternal health - just one short of the DfID target.

One NGO staff member quoted in the evaluation report said that the campaign "opened our eyes to one way of valuing the input of women within the cultural constraints we work in. The Eastern mindset is very much a male one, making headline issues our usual approach as NGOs. This project addressed things which are considered beyond the red line for discussion regarding intimate details, like childbirth. The project found a mature way of dealing with these discussions where greater deference is needed."

Around the world every day, 800 women die from complications relating to pregnancy and childbirth. In 2008, 90 per cent of these deaths occurred in eight Muslim-majority countries: Morocco, Iraq, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen, Sudan, Djibouti, and Afghanistan. It is estimated that eight out of ten lives could be saved if women could access basic healthcare and education.

The campaign toolkit is available at http://www.madeineurope.org.uk/learn/resources/item/at-our-mothers-feet-campaign-toolkit

You can see the Mum Song here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CVGm7sFAAAc

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