Protecting the sexual and reproductive rights of women across Europe

By RCM Quality and Standards Advisor Lia Brigante RCM UK Research Safety Wellbeing Of Women Women ICM - International Congress of Midwives

Europe's midwives gathered in Istanbul for the general annual meeting of the European Association of Midwives (EMA) on 22 and 23 September. From the UK, Mervi Jokinen and Lia Brigante participated as delegates of The Royal College of Midwives (RCM), joining 33 European countries representing 45 midwifery associations. All together these associations represent more than 100,000 midwives in Europe. Lia Brigante shares the key takeaways from the event.

The meeting allowed for discussion and exchange of ideas across the region as well the discussion of the annual report that was led by Mervi Jokinen, former president of EMA and now consultant for the EMA board. After a unanimous vote, Viktoria Vivilaki, President of the Greek Association of Midwives was elected as President of EMA while Melania Elena Tudose from the Romanian Independent Midwives Association was confirmed as vice-president for another term.

As part of the RCM International team, we are looking forward to working closely with the newly elected board and support their advocacy for midwives practicing to their full scope of practice and with fair working conditions across Europe. The midwifery profession in Europe faces significant challenges, but the conversations were filled with hope and suggestions on how to increase the visibility and recognition of midwives across the continent.

Midwifery has been identified as a solution by the United Nations and there is an increased focus of policy makers on the importance of midwives in supporting families and communities including in crisis. The vice-president of the Turkish Midwifery Association, Burcu Yetsal, gave a moving presentation on the midwifery responses to the earthquake in Turkey and how they were funded by Direct Relief to provide dignity kits to women and families in needs as well as supporting student midwives that had lost family members to continue their studies (Direct Relief).

Gokhan Yildirimkaya, national coordinator of UNFPA Turkey provided a sobering update on women and girls’ reproductive health rights in the country. Less than 50% of women of reproductive age (15-49) have their need for family planning met and child marriage remains common with 1 in 5 women reporting they got married at a child age and 1 in 3 women who got married at a child age also becoming mothers at a child age (

UNFPA Data). This is a call for action for midwives nationally and internationally to continue raise their voices for the unseen and unheard women and girls. Investment in midwifery models of care, with midwives working to their full scope of practice would meet 90% of sexual, reproductive, maternal, and neonatal health needs of the population.  

I was delighted to be invited by the board of EMA to give an update on the International Confederations of Midwives (ICM) in my role as ICM board member for Europe. In a world where women and girls’ rights are often disregarded and under threat, we continue to advocate tirelessly for midwives to ensure a woman’s most basic human rights to decision-making. This includes bodily autonomy throughout life, a healthy pregnancy of her own design, safe childbirth, and essential care for her newborn.  

An ambitious action plan has now been drawn up for the period 2023–2025. It includes strategies to support and promote midwifery research, practice and education, to influence EU legislation on midwifery education and practice, to increase EMA's influence at EU level and to work for women's general and sexual and reproductive health and equal access to high quality maternity care in Europe.