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Together again: from evidence to reality – 33rd ICM Triennial Congress

Together again: from evidence to reality – 33rd ICM Triennial Congress

33rd ICM Triennial Congress, in Bali. Photo: Roxane Ingleton

After a COVID-19-interrupted delay, the 33rd International Confederation of Midwives (ICM) Congress of Midwives met in Bali in June 2023. ANMF Maternity Services Officer Nicole Allan attended and prepared this report.

In mid-June 2023, more than 2500 midwives from across 113 countries gathered at Nusa Dua Bali’s Convention Centre to celebrate their profession. Among them was a strong contingent of Australian midwives.

The event commenced with an opening ceremony on Sunday 11 June, during which flag bearers walked proudly into a room full of colour and excitement, with many of the attendees joining them in wearing national costume. We received formal welcomes by dignitaries from Indonesia, the ICM President and Indonesian Midwives Association President, all encouraging participants to enjoy the opportunities that lay before them over the next four days to share their knowledge and experience.

The event featured many presentations, workshops and forums that promoted the amazing work of midwives across the globe, and we heard from world-renowned experts and practitioners on topics in maternal and newborn health such as:

  • strengthening the midwifery workforce
  • addressing health inequities
  • digital health and innovation
  • and humanitarian issues, climate change and health.

We were encouraged to step over our shadows and shine a light on the profession of midwifery, to see ourselves as peacemakers and understand that at every step in our work we touch humankind.

A highlight was the celebration of one of the ICM Young Midwife Leaders, Mita, who shared her passion and journey in becoming a midwife. She was honoured by the passing on of a pinard, the handing over to the next generation. Balinese dancers closed the session in spectacular style.

Plenary sessions

Plenary sessions commenced each day’s agenda, with challenging subject matter and comprehensive discussion to foster every congress participant to be aware of the global work of midwives and the differences that each midwife can make.

Plenary session #1: Realising the top demands of midwives – a pathway towards better pay, and a happier, healthier midwifery workforce.

The key messages of this plenary included a framework for midwifery leadership, seeking allies and ‘rolling up your sleeves instead of throwing your hands up’ to achieve a better platform for midwives.

We also discussed challenging and winning the equal-pay platforms and valuing the work of the profession, driving home the message that at every opportunity we should advocate for midwifery and your community, demanding better regulation and pay, and empowering midwives, women, girls and families.

Plenary session #2The last healthcare professionals standing – an exploration of the role of midwives in humanitarian and fragile settings

This was an emotionally challenging session about care in unimaginable circumstances.

A Haitian midwife detailed the daily decision of attending work in an environment of civil unrest where choosing the love of their country and their profession, to stay with women, could be the choice of potentially losing their life.

A brave and emotional Ukrainian midwife shared her experiences of Mariupol and the bombing of the maternity hospital. She talked about staying with her community, not knowing the safety of her own family, and birthing women in the basement: 130 babies in 42 days, including triplets and twins. To hear her speak – and be clear that the cries of the babies were larger than the bombs, and a symbol of the hope for her country – was a moment no attendee will forget.

Dr Natalie Kanes, United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UNFPA (the United Nations Population Fund), defended the need for safe spaces for midwives, for psychosocial support and to prioritise the needs of women and girls in times of conflict. UNFPA’s mission is to deliver a world where every pregnancy is wanted, every childbirth is safe and every young person’s potential is fulfilled. Dr Kanes closed her comments by asking us to defend the peace, as ‘peace is the precondition to be able to do your job’.

Plenary session #3 The next 100 years of ICM and midwifery – strategies for ensuring greater support, inclusivity, and representation for our global community of midwives

Australian first Nations voices were heard, advocating ‘that there is no voice without the Indigenous voice in any country’. There is a need amongst advocates and allies for inclusivity, they told us, and ICM was encouraged to ‘not fill the stage up with yourself but to let us speak’.

We were challenged to break down barriers, to be intentional in what is wanting to be achieved and to report back on the inclusion of these strategies in the charter at the next congress in Portugal.

Concurrent sessions

Concurrent sessions followed each daily plenary, and offered a smorgasbord of choice: Standards and Frameworks, workforce, advocacy, models of care, midwifery leadership, clinical workshops, education, digital midwifery – the list goes on.

A highlight included Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander midwives taking about promoting recruitment and retention of Aboriginal student midwives, birthing on country, and ensuring cultural safety for women and First Nations’ midwives and students.

Another highlight was a presentation on the Growing Deadly Families Strategy, which clearly identifies First Nations midwives’ priorities to support their community and best outcomes through improving partnerships for governance and leadership, continuity of care and embedding Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander workforce and support into health services: ‘Strong Culture, Strong Women, Strong Families, Strong Future’.

Djäkamirr, a documentary filmed in remote Arnhem Land, gave attendees an insight into the fight and right of First Nations communities in ensuring they continue their birthing culture and improve outcomes for women and families.

Meeting midwives from around the world

A wonderful consequence of being in one place with midwives from around the globe were the interactions that occurred through session and out of session. Lunch with a midwife from Germany whose maternity care and birthing experience is with women who choose home birth; afternoon tea with midwives from Nepal; and a quick coffee discussion with a midwife from the UK who had attended 11 congresses and was soon to retire, acknowledging that every time she attended a congress it gave her momentum to continue to make a difference.

Of course, many Victorian midwives also took the opportunity for a catch up and networking.

From among the many golden quotes from presenters, perhaps one comment has stayed with me and will encourage my work as ANMF Maternity Services Officer to progress member issues in the maternity space: ‘When you work in an enabling environment, the magic happens. Midwifery happens.’

See you in Lisbon, Portugal 2026.