International Women’s Day has been commemorated in some way for more than a century, but this year it is coming amid growing calls for women to be treated with dignity and respect in and out of the workplace. With growing momentum for women’s equality around the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, there is real optimism that concrete progress will follow.
White Ribbon Alliance was founded on the premise that how women were treated during pregnancy and childbirth was a reflection how they were viewed by society. It was clear to WRA that high maternal and newborn mortality rates were indicative of the low value placed on women’s lives. So, as we set out to save women’s and babies’ lives, we understood that advocating for gender equality was a vital part of our efforts.
Even those who know WRA well, may not fully understand this part of our work. That’s why in our recently released 2018–2022 strategic framework, we made it very clear that in addition to directly to contributing to the SDG 3 of good health and well-being, we also make significant contributions to SDG 5, gender equality. We do this by working to eliminate discrimination, violence and harmful practices directed at girls and women.
Here are some examples:
· Women are at the core of everything WRA does. We put women’s voices front and center of our accountability campaigns because we know that when women are involved in identifying challenges and solutions, progress accelerates. This also builds women’s confidence and helps government and others see women as valuable leaders in their community and country, ultimately shifting the paradigm.
· We know that when empowered with knowledge and confidence, women make the best health decisions for themselves and their families. Self-care is a WRA approach that realizes our strategy to educate and empower people about health and rights to deliver new or improved policies and practices that are driven by women’s needs. We work with women, girls, men and families, breaking down barriers one at a time in a way that values everybody’s contribution. For example, by involving men as part of our self-care work in Zimbabwe, father’s groups lead others in building repairs so that women in Kwekwe province had a safer, better functioning facility to meet their reproductive and maternal health needs. At the same time, healthworkers and women in Kwekwe received information about Respectful Maternity Care and it was adopted as a community standard, resulting in the doubling of facility-based births and a 20% increase in women attending antenatal care (ANC).
· Midwives are central to improved reproductive, maternal and newborn health, but they are often undervalued, overworked and underpaid, as discovered in this breakthrough global report led by WRA, WHO and ICM — largely because they are women, seen as doing women’s work. WRA is pushing for improvements in midwives’ pay and working conditions, changing the public’s perception of their work and supporting midwives around the world to advocate for their profession, in part by promoting midwifery leaders.
· Many of the barriers for gender equality are deeply embedded in society. WRA involves and focuses on the needs of adolescent girls, creating future leaders while addressing the vital health needs of young women. WRA Pakistan recently worked with the Girl Guides Association (similar to Girl Scouts in the U.S.) to conduct reproductive and maternal health sensitization and mobilization activities within high schools who reached more than 18,000 adolescent girls with critical information. Similarly, WRA Uganda engaged youth to demand action for their “Act Now to End Teenage Pregnancy” campaign, and WRA Nepal’s youth ambassador, Jemie Shrestha, actively campaigns against a rural taboo that exiles women to during menstruation, often in unsanitary and dangerous conditions. These are just a few examples of how WRA educates and empowers the next generation of women leaders.
· Finally, one of WRA’s greatest accomplishments during our last strategic planning period was a global campaign to promote a clear standard for respectful maternity care, rooted in international human rights. Working with global organizations, WRA produced the ground-breaking Respectful Maternity Care Charter, which has been translated into eight languages and continues to raise awareness and create policy change worldwide. RMC continues to be a central piece of work for WRA, because when a woman is treated with dignity during pregnancy and childbirth, the chances are greater that she’ll have similar treatment in other parts of her life.
So, on International Women’s Day, we welcome you to join White Ribbon Alliance in declaring loudly and proudly that now is the time for women’s voices to be heard. We must value all women — especially the most marginalized — so that we can reach our shared goals of a more healthy and prosperous world for everyone.
White Ribbon Alliance unites citizens to demand the right to a safe birth for every woman, everywhere. We harness the power of local women and men to achieve lasting change. Our approach is working. Subscribe to WRA’s newsletter VOICES and follow us on Facebook and Twitter to keep up to date on White Ribbon Alliance’s global maternal health campaigns.