International Women's Day

{Women in Malawi are increasingly engaging in sustainable ways to grow household income and end poverty, such as village savings and loans groups. (Photo Credit: Feed the Children / Amos Gumulira)}Women in Malawi are increasingly engaging in sustainable ways to grow household income and end poverty, such as village savings and loans groups. (Photo Credit: Feed the Children / Amos Gumulira)

Follow the conversation at the Commission on the Status of Women:

As we prepare to join the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) next week, where the focus will be on women’s economic empowerment in the changing world of work, I am reminded of my visit to Malawi last month.

{Fatimata Kané, Project Director of the FCI Program of MSH in Mali.} Photo Credit: Catherine LalondeFatimata Kané, Project Director of the FCI Program of MSH in Mali.

(Français)

Putting a child on the earth is a whole different type of work. Not everyone can guide a woman and her baby safely through pregnancy and childbirth.

I know what it means to keep women and babies alive and healthy because I am a midwife.

As a young girl in Mali, I passed the village dispensary on my way to school every day. I felt sorry for the people lined up outside waiting for treatment for their illnesses. I always told myself that one day I would wear the white coat of health workers and help those who are sick. During my health education training, I studied midwifery because I wanted to educate, advise and assist women before, during, and after pregnancy. 

Although I stopped practicing midwifery in maternity wards, I apply my professional passion to my work with MSH. No matter where I am or what project I’m working on, I speak with midwives, visit community health centers, and counsel pregnant women about their health and about that of their children whenever I can. When I visit communities, I encourage women to go to their local clinics for prenatal exams and to breastfeed and vaccinate their babies.

 {Photo credit: MSH Nigeria}Some members of the Amdo Health Club in Billiri, Gombe StatePhoto credit: MSH Nigeria

It isn’t easy being a woman–or a girl–in Nigeria.

I grew up in a little village in the North where the tradition was very patriarchal. But my family was quite revolutionary. My father, right from the beginning, supported all of his children to go to school. When he got ill, he told my mother:  ‘You must promise me this: If I’m not around, and you are forced to choose between who to send to school, always choose the girl. The boy will inherit the land; he will always have a livelihood. The girl, she is not allowed to inherit anything; the girl child needs an education to find a livelihood for herself. '

It’s the opposite of what everyone thought! This is how I learned to lead.

{Photo credit: Katy Doyle}Photo credit: Katy Doyle

Members of the global health community commemorated International Women’s Day (IWD) on March 8 by celebrating recent advances in women and girls’ health and indeed there was much to celebrate: maternal deaths have declined 45% worldwide, The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria has distributed over 450 million bed nets, and over 1 million babies have been born HIV-free thanks to the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR); but there is still work to do.  What happens once the day is over? How do we turn that attention into action? How are these issues going to be addressed? After awareness is raised, we still need concerted global action every day of the year if we are to make truly sustainable, impactful improvements in the lives of women and girls’ around the world. Here are a few things I think we can do at the global, US and local level to keep the spirit of IWD alive:

Globally: Elevate women and girls in the Post-2015 Development Agenda

{Photo credit: Rui Pires}Photo credit: Rui Pires

{Photo credit: Rui Pires.}Photo credit: Rui Pires.

Each year International Women’s Day energizes women and girls all over the world to celebrate and acknowledge the contributions of women globally. Together, we celebrate both the spirit and the essence of women wherever they may be, in whatever role they have taken. Based on our own experiences as women, each of us must align ourselves in solidarity with movements that signify a moment in our lives where we have overcome challenges despite the obstacles faced. 

For me, International Women’s Day represents the everyday successes that occur: when a mother delivers her baby safely in a health facility, the first day that little girl goes to school, and when she graduates from university. These moments of triumph are the result of the struggles of men and women who fought against the injustice of discrimination based on gender.

I want to acknowledge these great achievements of women and girls not only on March 8, but each and every day. 

{Photo credit: Andrew Esiebo/MSH Nigeria}Photo credit: Andrew Esiebo/MSH Nigeria

I am a woman. I am a Nigerian. I am a mother. I am a leader. And, I am a daughter. As the Nigerian country representative, I guide Management Sciences for Health (MSH)’s efforts to ensure the people of my country have access to quality health services. Indeed, I am many things. Before all else:

I am a woman of Nigeria.

The Girl Child in Nigeria

From the beginning, our girl children are at a disadvantage.

Our culture (like many are) is strongly patriarchal. The boy child is given higher status than the girl child. If a family has to choose, the boy child is the first to go to school. The girl child is the first to be dropped from school.

No matter how young she is, the girl child feels that it is her responsibility to care for her siblings. She is expected to take on added responsibilities and earn money to keep the other children. This pressure frequently leads to early sexual activity, transactional sex, and sex with older men-- increasing her risk of getting HIV and other sexually-transmitted infections.

Then Boko Haram came to the North East Zone of Nigeria. They take our girls away. They abuse them. They rape them. They marry them off to older men.

 {Photo credit: Jennifer Acio/MSH.}Last year, a group of community members queued up to register for different services at Budaka Health Center IV on International Women's Day 2013.Photo credit: Jennifer Acio/MSH.

MSH staff and projects participated in International Women's Day celebrations in dozens of countries around the world. We share some of our stories with photos and excerpts from South Africa, Uganda, and Afghanistan.

Uganda Celebrates

STRIDES for Family Health joined the Ugandan government to commemorate International Women's Day in Kumi district. This year’s theme was “In partnership with men and boys for empowerment of women and girls in Uganda.” STRIDES supported village health teams’ participation in the celebration and distributed TOMS shoes before the event to motivate mothers to access services at health facilities.

[Women leaders access health information provided by STRIDES during the International Women's Day event in Kayunga district.] {Photo credit: Tadeo Atuhura/MSH}Women leaders access health information provided by STRIDES during the International Women's Day event in Kayunga district.Photo credit: Tadeo Atuhura/MSH

 

International Women’s Day, March 8, signifies more than a single day can encompass. At MSH, International Women’s Day is a day for celebrating women health leaders who inspire change and an opportunity to recommit ourselves to another year of action toward gender equity.

We celebrate International Women’s Day with Drs. Suraya Dalil and Florence Guillaume, Ministers of Health from Afghanistan and Haiti.

Watch their video message to women around the world:

We pay homage to the women who have come before us; we stand on their shoulders. We acknowledge their courage, sacrifice, and commitment, allowing women today to dream of a future with more possibilities for next generations of women and girls.

Celia Tusiime Kakande. {Photo: Tadeo Atuhura/MSH.}Photo: Tadeo Atuhura/MSH.

For most of my life, women in Uganda---as in most countries---were treated as inferior to men. Girls were less likely to be educated than their brothers, and had little control over the direction of their lives. Many girls grew up being told how to act, eat, and talk; many women were regarded as little more than domestic caregivers. However, in 1986 the ruling government radically changed the dynamics of Ugandan women in global development and their participation in decision-making at all levels of government. This International Women’s Day we, in Uganda, are celebrating this transformation with a theme of “connecting girls, inspiring futures,” and wishing women around the world similar progress and success.

Women Lead: Government

Women in Uganda now hold more leadership positions than ever before—35 percent of the seats in Parliament are now occupied by women, and our Speaker of Parliament and Minister of Health are women. The introduction of universal primary education has allowed more girls to begin their schooling, and affirmative action at the university level has provided more women the opportunity to realize their dreams for fulfilling professional careers.

Celia Tusiime Kakande. {Photo: Tadeo Atuhura/MSH.}Photo: Tadeo Atuhura/MSH.

For most of my life, women in Uganda---as in most countries---were treated as inferior to men. Girls were less likely to be educated than their brothers, and had little control over the direction of their lives. Many girls grew up being told how to act, eat, and talk; many women were regarded as little more than domestic caregivers. However, in 1986 the ruling government radically changed the dynamics of Ugandan women in global development and their participation in decision-making at all levels of government. This International Women’s Day we, in Uganda, are celebrating this transformation with a theme of “connecting girls, inspiring futures,” and wishing women around the world similar progress and success.

Women Lead: Government

Women in Uganda now hold more leadership positions than ever before—35 percent of the seats in Parliament are now occupied by women, and our Speaker of Parliament and Minister of Health are women. The introduction of universal primary education has allowed more girls to begin their schooling, and affirmative action at the university level has provided more women the opportunity to realize their dreams for fulfilling professional careers.

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