Young Midwife Leaders Making a Difference

Lourdes de la Peza

Principal Technical Advisor on Management and Leadership

Many studies have demonstrated that well prepared midwives working close to women and the community, is “likely to be the most cost-effective” investment in primary health care to prevent maternal and neonatal mortality.

That is why many development partners are interested in supporting young midwife leaders to strengthen midwifery in their countries. At the Women Deliver 2016 Midwifery Symposium, UNFPA in collaboration with multiple partners, including the International Confederation of Midwives, the World Health Organization (WHO), H4+, JHPIEGO, Johnson and Johnson, Amref Health Africa, and the Leadership, Management, and Governance Project, organized a one day leadership workshop for 32 young midwives representing 30 different countries.

The workshop provided an opportunity to help young midwives achieve their leadership potential as powerful advocates who can engage in national policy dialogues with a stronger, evidence-based voice. During the workshop, the midwives focused on strengthening competencies such as self-awareness, evidence-based leadership, analytical skills, using managing and leading practices to produce results, and advocacy.

Young midwives participated in a leadership workshop in Copenhagen, Denmark. (Photo: Lourdes de la Peza/MSH)
Young midwives participated in a leadership workshop in Copenhagen, Denmark. (Photo: Lourdes de la Peza/MSH)

I had the honor of facilitating “Design to Make a Difference,” a session that invited participants to choose one of their main midwifery leadership challenges, define their intended results, and learn how to analyze the obstacles and root causes to propose interventions to address them. It was a very interesting session. The midwives know their contexts very well and they expressed two main and common challenges. The first was positioning midwifery as an accepted, and essential, role in the health workforce. Next, was professionals' resistance to evidence-based practices that run counter to traditional medicalized approaches to birthing. In their declaration of commitment at the end of the workshop, the midwives shared that they often work long hours and may receive unfair or inconsistent wages. Samara expressed there is no room for midwives in Mexico in the Public Sector and Clementine from Uganda, said sometimes they are not accepted by the community because of lack of information.

The Danish Association of Midwives hosted the workshop at Rigshospitalet, a hospital in Copenhagen. After lunch they organized a tour around the maternity ward. Midwives from all over the world were impressed about how friendly this facility is. The labor rooms are clean, well-organized, and there is plenty of room to allow members of the family to join the mother during delivery. They also have a spa in case women want to deliver their baby under water.

To improve the midwives’ analytical skills and evidence-based leadership approaches, the WHO organized a session in which participants analyzed the latest research on best practices during labor that can make the labor safer and more comfortable for women. Although these practices often go against traditional birthing practices, the midwives analyzed how they could apply or promote the practices in their particular context. Some of these practices are:

I was impressed to discover how, when I delivered my own babies in private hospitals in Mexico, I suffered from all the traditional medicalized practices that are not necessary!

Alix Bacon, President of the Midwives Association of British Columbia and midwives’ teacher at the University of British Columbia, expressed how useful the workshop had been for her, and specifically what she sees as the huge need for management and leadership training for midwives and other health professionals. She also noted that a key takeaway from the workshop was her newfound understanding of how leadership and management practices can work together to address challenges in the workplace and produce greater results.

To close the workshop, Adam Deixel from the FCI Program of Management Sciences for Health facilitated a session on how to use evidence, strong data, and powerful stories to advocate for all these best practices to be introduced, and for ending preventable child and maternal deaths by professionalizing and deploying a strong midwifery cadre.