I recently had the opportunity to travel to South Africa as part of a delegation for the Midwives Alliance of North America as an Observer to the International Confederation of Midwives (ICM) Triennial Council meeting. I had the unique privilege of listening and learning about the organizational processes that unfold as midwifery leaders from over 50 member countries meet and work together to move midwifery forward on the global level. The Council business meeting preceded the Congress, which was an historic conference of over 3000 midwives from as far as Afghanistan and as near as Zimbabwe. As the first ever ICM Congress held in Africa, and with over 1000 midwives from South Africa alone in attendance, the milestones, themes, message, and vision were focused on the greatest threats to our global society: maternal and infant mortality and the contributing factors that lead to it.
Part 1: Is Freedom a Theory of Relativity?
The start of my journey to Africa included a layover in the heart of the empire that gave birth to the former colonies of my homeland and my destination. The irony of the unintentional connection to have a visit in London at the start of a journey towards new understanding about the connections between women in all cultures was highlighted by our stumbling upon a global phenomenon in support of women happening in Trafalgar Square. While the Sluts Rally , an international series of protests spawned from the negligent comments of a Canadian police officer regarding the relationship of proper dress code and sexual assault, may seem like a frivolous feminist effort, there is significant connection when we understand that cultural colonization continues it’s global creep.
How can a rally in Trafalgar Square that seems on the surface to be demanding the right of women to wear their underwear in public without harassment mean something to women in South Africa who live in a country that leads the world in rape crimes?
Rape Statistics: South Africa, US, and UK
- It is estimated that a woman born in South Africa has a greater chance of being raped than learning how to read.  One in three of the 4,000 women questioned by the Community of Information, Empowerment and Transparency said they had been raped in the past year.
- More than 25% of a sample of 1,738 South African men from the KwaZulu-Natal (Durban) and Eastern Cape Provinces admitted when anonymously questioned to raping someone; of those, nearly half said they had raped more than one person, according to a non-peer reviewed policy brief issued by the Medical Research Council (MRC). 
- According to United States Department of Justice document Criminal Victimization in the United States, there were overall 191,670 victims of rape or sexual assault reported in 2005. 1 of 6 U.S. women has experienced an attempted or completed rape. From 2000-2005, 59% of rapes were not reported to law enforcement.
- According to a news report on BBC One presented in 12 November 2007, there were 85,000 women raped in the UK in the previous year, equating to about 230 cases every day. According to that report one of every 200 women in the UK was raped in 2006. The report also showed that only 800 persons were convicted in rape crimes that same year.
It is indeed sobering to realize that many of our common bonds with the women of South Africa are in the shared threats of sexual assault, exploitation, and access to quality maternity care. It would seem that the ties that bind are less of an issue of resource and more of an issue of society. A lack of priority for the issues that face women in the world crosses country and culture.
International Confederation of Midwives Walk to Durban
This sense of international despair for our future was transformed in a rally of hope as thousands of midwives from all over the world arrived in South Africa and joined together in a Walk to Durban in an effort to highlight the focus of the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) on midwives as the key to delivering health and saving lives of women and babies everywhere. We may be the key, but the lock can only be turned with significant support for access to midwifery education, autonomous midwifery regulation, and strong professional associations that will serve to bring back the ancient art of providing safe and effective maternity care with each woman at the center of the system that serves her.
Today is Independence Day in the United States. A day to celebrate the hard earned freedoms that we generally take for granted. For those of us who live in the safety nets of protected environments, let’s take a moment to envision our nets spreading to women all over the world. Envision a world where all childbearing women are safe from rape, HIV, postpartum hemorrhage, fistulas, sepsis, and death. Every woman can stand together for this most inalienable human right.
ICM, An Organization With a Vision
 Jewkes, Rachel; Yandisa Sikweyiya1, Robert Morrell, Kristin Dunkle (2009) UNDERSTANDING MEN’S HEALTH AND USE OF VIOLENCE: INTERFACE OF RAPE AND HIV IN SOUTH AFRICA. South African Medical Research Council.
 Tjaden P, Thoennes N. Extent, nature, and consequences of intimate partner violence: findings from the National Violence Against Women Survey. Washington (DC): Department of Justice (US); 2000. Publication No.: NCJ 181867.