If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance that you already know that 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.  But I wonder if you’re now imagining defenceless, helpless women who are subject to the terrible circumstances in which they find themselves?  All too often, and not without good reason, that’s the image that can come to mind when we think about mothers and babies dying in poor countries.

But think again! 

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]  Make (someone) stronger and more confident, especially in controlling their life and claiming their rights

Using a model of participatory approach 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, identify local strategies to address these problems, take action on the local strategies and finally evaluate their impact.  Throughout the life cycle of the groups, women discuss different topics on infant and maternal health which are of interest to them.  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.

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 demonstrating the ability of a community  to address their maternal and newborn health issues when they are empowered to do so.   Such 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 been 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.

Shapla, a woman who attend 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.”

More information about the women’s groups can be found here:

http://www.womenandchildrenfirst.org.uk/what-we-do/international-programme-strategies/community-mobilisation

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