Decision of the Intergovernmental Committee: 18.COM 8.B.26

The Committee

  1. Takes note that Colombia, Cyprus, Germany, Kyrgyzstan, Luxembourg, Nigeria, Slovenia and Togo have nominated Midwifery: knowledge, skills and practices (No. 01968) for inscription on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity:

Midwives are companions and supporters of pregnant women and their families before, during and after birth. Throughout the course of a pregnancy, midwives make home visits, provide guidance and care, and facilitate birth preparation. They contribute to the protection of fundamental human rights by transmitting their knowledge to mothers and families. Midwifery is based on evidence-based practices and traditional knowledge, skills and techniques. It varies according to the social, cultural and natural contexts of different communities and countries, and sometimes includes knowledge of traditional medicine and of medicinal plants and herbs. Midwifery also entails specific cultural practices, vocabulary, celebrations and rituals. The related skills and knowledge have been safeguarded, developed and passed on by practising communities for generations, especially within networks of women. Traditional knowledge of midwifery is accumulated through direct experience, observation and interaction with the human body. It is transmitted through oral instruction, observation, participation and peer exchange. In many countries, the practice of midwifery also requires certification, and the related knowledge and skills are transmitted through formal education such as academic learning based on curricula, some of which align with the standards established by the International Confederation of Midwives.

  1. Considers that, from the information included in the file, the nomination satisfies the following criteria for inscription on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity:

R.1:   Networks of women play an important role in passing down the knowledge and skills of midwifery, in formal and non-formal education settings. Knowledge is not only transmitted between midwives, but also from midwives to mothers and families. Although most midwives are women, the practice is open to all. Midwives may practice their skills individually, or in groups or associations. An important organization on the international forum is the International Confederation of Midwives. The element has diverse characteristics in the submitting States, but the following shared social and cultural functions stand out: (a) the accompaniment of women and families through the process of birth as a life-changing transition process; (b) its role in relation to bonding, relationships and social cohesion; (c) its role in building autonomy and promoting human rights; and (d) its role in promoting the empowerment of women and sharing of parenting responsibilities. Midwifery is consent-based and fundamental to the promotion of women’s rights, sexual and reproductive rights, and gender equality as a factor of sustainable development.

R.2:   The inscription of midwifery, a deep-rooted socio-cultural practice, would promote a more integrated and holistic perception of intangible cultural heritage at the local level. Inscription would generate awareness for the leadership role that many women play in safeguarding intangible cultural heritage at the local level. It would improve nationwide understanding of practices that link cultural heritage and health, and of their contribution to sustainable development. The element can therefore also be connected to national sustainable development strategies that contribute to its safeguarding in a more coherent and holistic way. It can also strengthen people’s understanding of intangible cultural heritage as a key factor for social cohesion. The inscription’s intercontinental character will strengthen the visibility of the Convention and emphasize how shared living heritage can unite multiple communities in the submitting States while recognizing their diversity. Inscription would encourage dialogue between midwives, future parents, women’s groups, NGOs, decision-makers and local communities. More importantly, it would promote dialogue and create synergies between stakeholders from various areas, including health, culture and social affairs.

R.3:   The element’s viability has been maintained through continued practice and transmission. Past and current safeguarding measures include research, documentation and activities, and the nomination file lists examples from the different submitting States. State measures range from legislative action to providing educational and vocational training on midwifery. The proposed safeguarding measures are divided into three categories: (a) transmission and capacity building; (b) research, documentation and identification; and (c) promotion, enhancement and awareness-raising. State support includes help in preparing the nomination, commitment to supporting safeguarding actions, legislative measures and efforts in the field of education. Communities, groups and individuals in all the submitting States were actively involved throughout the process of preparing the nomination file. There were multiple opportunities for the stakeholders to express ideas and design safeguarding measures which they will subsequently implement themselves.

R.4:   Community participation in the nomination process has an international and a national component. International cooperation was already part of the exchange modalities between the practitioners. Several communities advocated for a multinational nomination. Since 2017, the idea has circulated among international midwifery networks. A nomination task force was set up, a conference session was held, and an editorial group was formed, as a means of ensuring balanced community representation and gathering input for the nomination. The nomination file provides information about the different national processes for preparing its contents, including the involvement of the relevant stakeholders. Free, prior and informed consent is attested through video recordings and a wide range of support letters. Some aspects of midwifery that relate to privacy during delivery and birth, or to restricted knowledge, will be kept confidential through appropriate measures.

R.5:   The file provides evidence of the inclusion of the element in the national inventories of the eight submitting States, including their reference numbers and dates of inclusion. The bodies responsible for the inventories are listed. Definition, identification and updating processes are adequately described and attest to the participation of relevant communities, groups and individuals in the process.

  1. Decides to inscribe Midwifery: knowledge, skills and practices on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity;
  2. Commends the States Parties for a well-prepared file and video that highlights gender equality, traditional knowledge, healthcare for women, and the contribution of living heritage to the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals;
  3. Further commends the States Parties for a file that can serve as a good example for multinational files, involving countries from across 5 out of the 6 Electoral Groups.