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Five Lessons for Advancing Maternal Health Rights in an Age of Neoliberal Globalization and Conservative Backlash.

After considerable progress in recent decades, maternal mortality and morbidity (MMM) either stagnated or worsened in most regions of the globe between 2016 and 2020. The world should be outraged given that we have known the key interventions necessary for preventing MMM for over three-quarters of a century. Since the 1990s, human rights advocacy on MMM has gained crucial ground, demonstrating that entitlements related to maternal health are judicially enforceable and delineating rights-based approaches to health in the context of MMM. Nonetheless, evident retrogressions, coupled with ballooning social inequalities, redoubled austerity post-pandemic, and a conservative populist backlash against reproductive rights, underscore the steep challenges we face. This paper offers five lessons gleaned from what we have achieved during the past 30 years of human rights advocacy on maternal health, and where we have fallen short: (1) maternal health is not a technical challenge alone and is inseparable from reproductive justice; (2) reproductive justice requires strengthening health system infrastructures; (3) we must center the political economy of global health in our advocacy, not just national policies; (4) litigation is part of a larger advocacy toolkit, not a go-it-alone strategy; and (5) we must use metrics that tell us why women are dying and what to do.

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