Support for “midwives” in Saudi is enhanced
Unlike many professions dominated by men, being a midwife is an occupation dominated by Saudi women. Saudi Arabia has been recently supporting women's need for a safe and healthy process of giving birth, and to strengthen the role of midwives.
A midwife provides care for women during the pregnancy, during the actual birth, as well as afterward. Midwives also provide care to the newborn for the first six weeks of life. They help mothers who wish to breastfeed, and midwives reduce maternal and neonatal mortality rates.
Historically Saudi Arabia has limited the opportunities for women to work outside the home. During these years, working as a midwife was one of very few professions for women, and was therefore very popular. However, with recent governmental changes that have restored rights, Saudi women now find many professional opportunities. This situation has contributed to a decline in the number of midwives working in Saudi Arabia.
The Saudi commission for health specialists, organized in mid-March, sponsored an open program for midwives in Riyadh in order to discuss the future of midwifery in the Kingdom. The commission members announced their intention to offer more support for women wishing to become midwives by discussing the needs of midwives, and creating new programs and a cadre for new midwives as a resource to enrich the profession..
The head of the midwives committee at the Commission, Dr. Roa Altaweli, told Okaz newspaper the midwife opening day is considered a new beginning for the profession in Saudi Arabia. Dr. Altaweli points out that introducing the profession and discussing many aspects related to it in terms of testing, licensing, and employment, as well as initiating programs critically needed to address the severe deficiency of midwives.
Altaweli is the first Saudi woman to receive a doctoral degree in midwifery and has been honored for her efforts in the field by the Saudi Ambassador to the United Kingdom Prince Mohammed bin Nawaf bin Abdel-Aziz.
The Kingdom has organized several training and rehabilitation courses for midwives designed to address the shortage. The Saudi Society of Midwives was established in August 2015 to inform and remind Saudis about the role of midwives in various health sectors and to assist with the development of a bachelor's degree program in midwifery, a program that may be earned immediately after secondary school.
Crisis in numbers
According to the Saudi Ministry of Health, in 2015, a total of 262,000 births occurred. According to the global index for 2015, one midwife for each 30 births is the standard, leaving Saudi Arabia in need of at least 8,700 midwives. Only 175 midwives operate in the Kingdom currently, and most of them work in governmental health entities. In addition to the Saudi midwives, more than 5,000 non-Saudi women work as midwives in the private sector. Based on the increase in Saudi population reported in the census, as well as improved fertility rates, the need for midwives is estimated to be close to 11,000.
The number of midwives is decreasing for several reasons. It is physically exhausting, and it requires working any hour of the day or night, for example. The Ministry of Health recently reviewed the status of midwives, reviewing job descriptions and developing a clear statement to address midwife skills, the training midwives receive on the job, and ways to recruit women to the field.
Saudi Arabia's interest in midwifery aligns with the vision of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia 2030 by addressing the increases in the number of Saudi women participating in the labor market, up from 22% to 30%, reducing the unemployment rate by 33%.
Saudi Arabia is focusing on providing women with a greater number of employment opportunities by opening fields to women including air traffic control, prosecutors, the army, various aviation professions, and other fields. The government is also working to provide women with more jobs in the fields in which they already work.