Session: Applying Human Rights Based Approaches to Preventing Maternal Mortality and Morbidity: Strategies, Challenges and Lessons from Civil Society Experiences in Four Countries
Presenter: Jashodhara Dasgupta, SAHAYOG
While the earlier Indian government had provided considerable recognition to civil society especially around the realization of social-economic rights, the regime change following 2014 General Elections has led to shrinking spaces. Adapting to this changed context, the civil society organization (CSO) SAHAYOG working in partnership with the National Alliance for Maternal Health and Human Rights (NAMHHR) decided to promote implementation of the budget components of the TGN, working with parliamentarians to strengthen legislative oversight of departmental budgets and implementation. However as human rights based approaches in the TGN would need considerable simplification and adaptation, three key elements were taken up for advocacy: the use of budget quotas for promoting health of socially marginalized groups such as indigenous tribes with high maternal mortality, the protection of women’s reproductive rights, and the notion of ‘maximum available resources.’ Political attention was generated by focusing on frequent maternal deaths reported among indigenous tribal women over two years, a tragic incident of deaths among thirteen young women following sterilization operations (November 2014), and the widely criticized federal budget cuts to social sectors. A key strategy centred around the annual oversight of departmental budgets by the Parliamentary Standing Committee (PSC) on Health and Family Welfare, with representatives from all major political parties. The director of the Secretariat, Chairperson and key Parliamentarians of the PSC were briefed using the TGN, fact-finding reports, data and suggested budget queries. Presentations were also made to the Special Economic Advisor to the Finance Minister. The recommendations of the PSC (82nd Report on Demand for Grants, 2015) and the Finance Ministry’s Economic Survey of India 2014-15 both carry a noticeable mention of the issues around rights-based budgeting for maternal mortality prevention. The responsiveness of the PSC has indicated the potential to advocate for implementation of the TGN through this national accountability mechanism.