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The Question of Autonomy in Maternal Health in Africa: A Rights-Based Consideration

Abstract

Maternal mortality is still very high in Africa, despite progress in control efforts at the global level. One elemental link is the question of autonomy in maternal health, especially at the household level where intrinsic human rights are undermined. A rights-based consideration in bioethics is an approach that holds the centrality of the human person, with a compelling reference to the fundamental human rights of every person. A philosophical and sociological engagement of gender and the notion of autonomy within the household reveals some fundamental rights-based perplexities for bioethical considerations in maternal health. The right to self-determination is undermined, and therefore women’s dignity, freedom and autonomy, capacities, and choices are easily defiled. This study applies a rights-based approach to maternal health and demonstrates how rights concerns are associated with negative outcomes in maternal health in Africa. The discussion is situated at the household level, which is the starting point in health care. The paper submits that beyond legal and political rights within the context of the state, rights-based issues manifest at the household level. Many of those rights issues, especially relating to women’s autonomy, are detrimental to maternal health in Africa. Therefore, a rights-based approach in the social construction of maternal health realities will contribute to alleviating the burden of maternal mortality in Africa.

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Acknowledgments

The author wrote the paper during his Georg Forster Fellowship for Postdoctoral Researchers and is grateful to the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, Germany, which administers the fellowship.

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Correspondence to Jimoh Amzat.

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Amzat, J. The Question of Autonomy in Maternal Health in Africa: A Rights-Based Consideration. Bioethical Inquiry 12, 283–293 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11673-015-9607-y

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Keywords

  • Maternal health
  • Maternal mortality
  • Bioethics
  • Cultural studies
  • Gender studies
  • Sociology