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NZ Midwifery Council Drops The Words 'Mother' And 'Woman'

The Midwifery Council of NZ is updating its Midwifery Scope of Practice guidance for midwives to entirely remove the words 'mother' and 'woman'.

Health researcher and former midwife Dr Sarah Donovan says the move is likely to be out of step with public expectations in New Zealand about the profession of midwifery, including how it describes who it cares for.

The Midwifery Council is required by the Health Practitioners Competence Assurance Act (HPCA) to prescribe the scope of practice of a midwife. The Scope defines what it means to be a midwife in New Zealand.

With midwifery arguably the most woman-centred and mother-centred of all health professions, Donovan says clarification is needed on what evidence base and advice underpinned the Midwifery Council's decision to remove these words entirely. The words ‘wahine’ and ‘māmā’, used almost universally in other maternity care material in New Zealand are also not used anywhere in the English language version of the document. The lack of these words seems conspicuous considering the inclusion of te reo in the English version for other terms.

"For a lot of people this will probably not make sense. Why erase these important words from midwifery in New Zealand? If this is about being inclusive, there is scope for terms to be used alongside each other. My understanding of what inclusive language in healthcare means is that it actually includes rather than excludes; it is additive of new terminology rather than removing widely-recognised and culturally cherished terms such as 'mother' and ‘māmā’

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A reasonable question to ask would be - has the Midwifery Council actually sought the views of the population they serve, and of the wider NZ public on removing the words 'mother' and 'woman' from Midwifery care in NZ? Have they asked mothers-to-be as a group how they would wish to be described instead?"

The previous version of the NZ Midwives Scope of Practice document referred to women and mothers throughout

Following public backlash earlier this year in the UK the National Health Service (NHS) reinstated the word ‘women’ in its guidances on women’s health topics such as miscarriage ovarian cancer and cervical screening,

The revised Scope of Practice document is open for consultation until 21 November and feedback can be provided via The Midwifery Council’s webpage:

Dr Donovan is a Health Sociologist and Adjunct Fellow in the School of Social and Cultural Studies at Victoria University of Wellington. She has previously undertaken research and policy advocacy on menstrual wellbeing, breastfeeding, and period poverty among New Zealand school pupils.

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