03/08/2014 08:21 am ET Updated May 08, 2014

Birthing Justice for Women in Haiti

More than a century has passed since the first International Women's Day, and as we look back to past accomplishments and forward to future goals, we urge readers to take action in one of the most pressing challenges facing women internationally - the present state of maternal and newborn health in developing nations. The need is great, but you can make a difference with a trip to the supermarket and a postage stamp.

The obstacles all women still face in obtaining equality and opportunity are as diverse as the nations and communities in which we live, and especially on this day it may be difficult to find a way to make a difference. Problems seem so large and complex, or so dependent on governments or powerful leaders, that it is easy to feel like you can't do anything to help.

But in many countries like Haiti, small contributions have large, immediate benefits.

Through our work with the campaign Haiti: Make Births Safe, we have seen the difference individuals can make in the lives of others, especially when that difference is between life and death.

No woman should die giving birth, but across the world, 800 women do, every single day. And 99% of these maternal mortalities happen in developing nations, where access to medical care and sanitation is far less common than it should be.

In Haiti, 63% of births take place without the presence of a doctor or nurse, and almost one third of pregnant Haitians are unable to receive the recommended number of prenatal visits. Childhood malnutrition and mortality have decreased, yet for children under 5, there are still 88 deaths per 1,000 live births. These are noteworthy improvements, despite a devastating earthquake and the introduction of cholera, but there is still more to be done.

One of the simplest actions you can take to improve an expectant mother and child's health is to provide them with a birthing kit. A small bag with essential items for delivery and immediate care and sanitation can greatly reduce the risks of infection, a major cause of newborn mortality.

Haiti: Make Births Safe distributes 300 of these kits a month to expectant mothers. The impact of these kits is immense but the need is far greater.

A basic birthing kit includes items like a small receiving blanket, a pair of clean exam gloves and a newborn cap. These inexpensive items can be found in most supermarkets and convenience stores, but are precious in areas with few resources.

Packing and mailing a birthing kit may seem like a small gesture to help a woman so far away, but it can save the life of a mother and child in Haiti, and also offers you the opportunity to inspire change in your own community.

By organizing a group of friends, co-workers or neighbors around an afternoon of assembling and mailing birthing kits, you can model leadership, encourage community partnership and inspire others to seek out practical solutions for larger problems. Inspiring change is important, but working for change is invaluable.

For more information on assembling health birthing kits, visit the Healthy Birthing Kit page on Haiti: Make Births Safe's website. On our website you will also find many other ways to get involved, from valuable donations to community fundraising campaigns.

We are two different women, doing very different jobs on opposite sides of the world. But we've come together for this important international campaign, and on this International Women's Day, we encourage you to join us in working towards a future where every birth is a healthy birth.


Laura Carmichael is an actress, known for Downton Abbey (2010), Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011) and Madame Bovary (2014). She has traveled to Haiti to further her work advocating for Haiti: Make Births Safe. Clotilde Josaime St Jean is a community health nurse and the Program Manager for community health programs for the campaign. She works directly with the Haitian Ministry of Health and international and local partners to improve the quality of, and access to, healthcare for women and children in northern Haiti.

Haiti: Make Births Safe is currently running a charity sweepstakes offering a chance to visit the set of Downton Abbey, meet cast members, watch filming of the new season, and have a private dinner with Laura Carmichael at London's historic Criterion restaurant. For more information on the sweepstakes, visit