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Changing the World One Birth at a Time

Explore how Latter-day Saint women are making waves in global maternal advocacy—and uncover the keys behind their success that create a model for the global community.

Latter-day Saint women have a unique perspective and role in promoting maternal advocacy and activism around the world. Our faith and values inspire us to care for others and to serve with love, compassion, and generosity. Through our maternal activism and advocacy, we can help protect and promote the health, education, and well-being of mothers and children, regardless of their religion, race, or nationality.

Maternal leadership is critical for reducing maternal and neonatal mortality rates, promoting maternal and child health, and empowering mothers and families. According to the World Health Organization, approximately 300,000 women die from pregnancy-related causes each year. Many of these deaths could have been prevented through better access to vaccines, health education, and skilled birth attendants. Latter-day Saints understand deeply just how important motherhood is, so we are in a unique position to lead out in maternal activism. 

Many Latter-day Saint mothers have heeded this call. Catherine, a mother of six from Chad, became a volunteer vaccinator to protect mothers and babies from maternal and neonatal tetanus (MNT), a deadly disease that kills thousands of newborns every year. She was motivated by her faith and her love for her children to join the MNT elimination movement led by UNICEF and the World Health Organization. She helped vaccinate more than 3,000 women in her community and inspired other mothers to join her cause.

The Relief Society sisters in Nepal received training on how to prevent and treat common pregnancy complications and emergencies. They learned skills such as measuring blood pressure, checking fetal heart rate, identifying signs of infection, managing bleeding, and more. They also shared their knowledge with other women in their communities. Their training helped save lives when people in their community needed timely care.

Maternal leadership is critical.

Teresa Collett and Hannah Spackman, two Latter-day Saint lawyers, participated in the 2023 March for Life in Washington D.C., a peaceful protest against abortion and for the sanctity of life. They were inspired by the scriptures and church teachings to defend the rights of unborn children. They also advocated for policies that would support pregnant women and families in need and challenged stereotypes about pro-life feminists.

Latter-day Saint Charities, the humanitarian arm of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, has played a significant role in promoting maternal advocacy and activism around the world. Since its founding in 1985, Latter-day Saint Charities has provided aid and support to people in more than 195 countries, with a focus on helping those in need regardless of their religion, race, or nationality.

One recent example of Latter-day Saint Charities’ maternal advocacy is their partnership with UNICEF to improve maternal and neonatal health in South Sudan. The project aims to train more than 1,000 midwives and health workers on life-saving maternal and neonatal care practices, provide essential medicines and equipment, and support the establishment of community-based sustainable health care programs.

These examples illustrate the diversity and impact of Latter-day Saint women’s maternal activism and advocacy. They demonstrate their courage, compassion, wisdom, faith, and leadership in serving others and fulfilling their divine roles as mothers and disciples of Christ. Maternal advocacy and activism are essential for promoting the health, education, and well-being of mothers and children around the world and reversing the trend of fewer and fewer individuals choosing motherhood.

The success of the women of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in this area serves as a valuable model for how to create lasting improvement on these issues worldwide. 

Perhaps most notably, Latter-day Saint women are empowered and lead out on these issues. While the popular perception is often that Latter-day Saint women are disempowered, these examples (and hundreds of others) suggest that the reality on the ground is substantially different. The three most recent General Presidents of the Relief Society have all included emphases on maternal health. President Linda K. Burton advocated for assembling newborn kits.  President Jean B. Bingham led the Church’s collaboration with UNICEF. Current General Relief Society President Camille Johnson has continued this work while focusing on disadvantaged groups who are disproportionately affected by poor maternal care. Today Latter-day Saint Charities has a woman as its director, Sharon Eubanks.

The experience of Latter-day Saint women benefitting from the organization and collective action of the Relief Society has inspired many of them to start their own advocacy and relief groups. Many of those organizations focus on maternal advocacy. Big Ocean Women, for example, describes itself as an organization focused on “maternal feminism” and was founded by a member of the Church of Jesus Christ. Similarly, Jennifer Brinkerhoff Platt founded Maternal Instincts Consulting to help address postpartum depression while advocating for improved water sanitation around the world because of its benefit to maternal and newborn health. 

Both the Church and these other organizations explicitly work with other groups rather than try and reinvent models. They find the groups that know how to make a difference and then put resources, both financial and labor, into those groups.

Latter-day Saints also have a long history of advocating for the education of women. Not only does this empower Latter-day Saint women to help solve any problem they set their eyes on, but there is a long history of research showing that education for girls and women results in reduced child and maternal deaths. The Church’s teachings were incredibly progressive on this issue, encouraging education at a time when it was not only counter-cultural but in a time and place where they were significantly exposed to maternal health risks—despite very little being known at the time about the connection. Today, Dr. Eva Witesman, a mother of four and a professor at Brigham Young University, is a leading advocate for women’s education and empowerment in various forums and publications.

Faith in Jesus Christ can motivate us.

One of the other lessons these women can teach us is the power of creating sustainable solutions. While direct aid is helpful, it can cause additional problems, undermining local markets and creating dependency. The Church of Jesus Christ operates differently. When the Church sends physicians and nurses through its Maternal and Newborn Care program, they focus on training local birth attendants who can then utilize these skills long-term.

This is a model that Kathy Headlee, another Latter-day Saint woman, followed in the organization she founded called Mothers Without Borders. Their organization, which focuses its work in Zambia, explains in its mission that it “empowers women and youth through education … to enable them to be change agents for themselves and their communities.”

But perhaps more than any other lesson, these Latter-day Saint women can teach the world the power of faith. With religion on the decline through much of the western world, their examples demonstrate that faith in Jesus Christ can motivate us to build Zion and improve the lives of many of those around us. 

The rise of maternal activism and advocacy by Latter-day Saint women in politics and society is making a positive impact on the world. The Church and culture they come from can model how to develop this strength and service in a way that can work over the long term. These women are using their voices, knowledge, skills, and faith to promote the health, education, and empowerment of mothers and their children, as well as to contribute to society and humanitarian efforts. They are inspiring others to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ and to serve others with love, compassion, and generosity. As we recognize and support the efforts of these women, we can work together to create a brighter future for all.

About the author

Morgan Anderson

Morgan Anderson is a full-time parent of three and a part-time writer and designer. Morgan is a long-time advocate for feminist causes and women’s health.
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