Seneka Cohen is a midwife and mother who while participating in the Landmark Education Self Expression and Leadership Program determined to make a difference in the exceptionally high mortality rate among Australian Aboriginal mothers and babies. She created The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Birthright Quilt.
The Birthright Quilt is a national, community-based initiative to address the unacceptably high infant and maternal mortality of Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander mothers and babies. According to Seneka Cohen, “Maternity care is frequently insensitive to Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander women’s needs and according to the AIHW, for every non-Indigenous mother and baby that dies, there are at least 5 Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander women* and 3 Aboriginal &Torres Strait Islander babies** that die.”
Seneka goes on to say that: “It is common for Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander women living in remote and rural Australia to be forced to travel hundreds of kilometres, often alone and months before their due date, to access maternity care by unknown caregivers in a context that is culturally inappropriate. I started The Birthright Quilt to provide an opportunity for all Australians to express their feelings about the lack of culturally appropriate maternity care available to Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander women by decorating a quilt square that will be sewn together to form a series of unique quilted art pieces.”
Instructions for contributing to the Quilt can be found on the website www.birthquilt.org and images of pieces are being continually uploaded. So far, hundreds of women are making quilt pieces and a documentary film is being produced on the making of the quilt. Both the quilt and film began being displayed publicly around Australia after its launch at the Koorie Heritage Trust Gallery on December 9th, 2007.
Seneka states that: “The purpose of the Birthright Quilt is to create awareness and raise funds in support of self-determination for Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander communities to reclaim their local birthing services. Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander women have the right to experience pregnancy and birth in a manner that supports their physical and emotional wellbeing as well as the social and cultural wellbeing of their communities.”
“This project seems to have struck a chord in the community and I have been receiving the most beautiful quilt pieces from all over the country. I am also overwhelmed by the positive responses and support I am receiving.”
The project is being supported by the Australian College of Midwives, the Koorie Heritage Trust Inc, the Maternity Coalition, the Council of Remote Area Nurses of Australia, the Congress of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Nurses, UNESCO Observatory & the Victorian Quilters Guild as well as individuals including Claire Bowditch, Lisa Kennedy, Ulrike Klein, Ric Wallis, Davini Malcolm, Jackie Schulz and many others.