If you are reading this, there is a good chance that you already know thousands of women and babies die every year, due to complications in pregnancy, labour or birth. You probably also know that most of these women and babies are living in poor countries. Are there any lasting sustainable approaches that can address these situations?
Empowering women through community mobilization.
For over a decade, Women and Children First has been working to improve maternal and newborn health by empowering women and their communities to find their own solutions to their maternal and newborn health problems.
Empower [ɪmˈpaʊə]: To make (someone) stronger and more confident, especially in controlling their life and claiming their rights.
Using a participatory approach model over a 2-year period, groups of poor, often illiterate women living in rural areas of sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, identify and prioritise maternal and newborn health problems in their community. The women also identify local strategies to address these problems, take action on the local strategies and evaluate their impact. Throughout the life cycle of the groups, based on their interests, women prioritize and discuss different topics on infant and maternal health. In order to capture the interest of the group and communicate effectively, storytelling, role plays, the use of picture cards and song and dance are often used.
The great strength of using this model is that women, often for the first time, have their opinions heard and are given a voice.
Shapla, a woman who attends a women’s group in Bangladesh says,
If you give a person food, it will be finished in one day. But information is more important than food. It helps us look after ourselves and our family better.
Through women identifying solutions to the challenges faced in their own communities, the women’s groups have been able to develop long-lasting and low-cost solutions; This demonstrating the ability of a community to address their maternal and newborn health issues when they are empowered to do so. Solutions include bicycle ambulances to take women in labour to the nearest healthcare facility, village savings and loan schemes to help women pay when medical intervention is required and video shows to raise awareness of maternal and newborn health issues. This approach has programs proven to be so successful that the World Health Organisation has formally recommended it as a human rights-based intervention to improve maternal and newborn health.