No woman no cry

Maternal health is not a topic I spend much time thinking about, yet I found myself completely captivated at the recent Canadian public premiere of No Woman No Cry, a documentary film by Christy Turlington Burns.

Hosted by the team at Grand Challenges Canada with Christy in attendance, the film provided some fascinating insights into both the evolution of Burns from supermodel to activist, and the state of pregnant women worldwide.

Following the experiences of four pregnant women in four different corners of the world (Tanzania, Guatemala, Bangladesh and the U.S.), the film immediately draws you in and keeps you firmly engaged thanks to content that is extremely visceral and authentic.

You can’t help but feel the young Tanzanian woman’s heroic agony - as she walks 5 miles, in labor, from her hut to the nearest medical center – only to discover that she might have a complication that is beyond the capacity of the staff to handle. The fact that she makes it alive to the city hospital center later is miraculous, while the glaring barrier of inadequate access to quality maternal care is brilliantly brought home to the audience.

In Bangladesh, the at-risk pregnant protaganist’s reluctance to birth her child outside her slum home – a huge local cultural stigma - is heartwrenching and compelling. So is the issue of religious ideology influencing abortion law in Guatemala, while in the U.S., a pregnant woman is confronted with the paradox of being surrounded by state-of-the-art hospitals but complete inaccessibility due to lack of health insurance.

What was clearly apparent – both in the film, and in the panel discussion afterwards – were Christy’s sincerity, knowledge and commitment to this cause. Her interest began when she survived severe bleeding complications during  the birth of her first child. Since then she has gone on to educate herself via a Masters in Public Health at Columbia University,  becoming a spokesperson and advocate for maternal and child health, working with organizations such as CARE, and creating

Overall, I think Christy definitely succeeds in her intention to shed a sensitive light on the immense challenge of global maternal and reproductive health.

A woman dies every 90 seconds from a pregnancy-related complication. About 90% of these deaths are entirely preventible.

Despite this horrific statistic, improving maternal health globally is lagging behind as the Millennium Development Goal that has made the least progress since it was created along with seven others in the year 2000.

What to do?

1. Watch the film!

2. Learn more about the topic, and ways to contribute at

3. Get inspired by those working on solutions to this “grand challenge” – visit Grand Challenges Canada and watch this TEDxChange @Delhi talk by their CEO Dr. Peter Singer: