On International Women’s Day: Standing up for maternal health around the world
This International Women’s Day, in keeping with the theme Time is Now: Rural and urban activists transforming women’s lives, we want to give shout-outs to our partners: people who are activists in their own right — change-makers at the community level who are quietly transforming women’s lives by making sure they have access to basic healthcare. They are lawyers, doctors, midwives, health workers, activists, and community members, who every day work — some quietly and some not so quietly — to fight inequality and ensure women get the compassionate, high-quality, skilled care and services they are entitled to.
Gaby started the first university-level midwifery program in Guatemala, recruiting students from the farthest rural areas where poverty and social exclusion is highest, as is maternal mortality. Her program is culturally-sensitive to the Mayan traditions, and incorporates that learning into the curriculum and training program. At Asociación Corazón del Agua, she makes sure that the students are linked with and sharing what they learn in their home communities through a traditional midwife, a comadrona, and that they will have a network of support for each other. Gaby is working to ensure that midwifery is officially recognized for the first time by the Guatemalan government, to ensure women have access to high-quality, compassionate midwifery care.
After moving to the U.S. from Britain in 1989 and seeing a lack of care for marginalized, low-income women, Jennie’s developed an evidence-based, effective model to eliminate health disparities. Jennie established an outreach clinic for pregnant women who are at risk of not receiving prenatal care. Jennie’s ‘Easy Access’ Prenatal Care Clinics offer quality maternity care for all, regardless of where they deliver or their ability to pay, and has markedly improved birth outcomes for women in Central Florida. Still, Jennie fights every day for women, dealing with bureaucratic hurdles, insurance companies that don’t want to pay, burnout, and a lack of funds.
In 1999, at the end of Guatemala’s civil war, Azucena and other midwives organized to support each other, improve their education, and preserve their traditional medicine and sacred Maya childbirth practices. They grew and eventually, with support from Maya Midwifery International and other donors, built a birth center and clinic. Today, they serve women around the community, train and educate other midwives, and operate a mobile clinic in the remote rural regions in and around Xela. Azucena and her fellow comadronas are remarkable in their tenacity and continued fight for Indigenous women to receive respectful care and recognition.
Nazdeek works at the grassroots community level to train activists, lawyers, students, and citizens living in impoverished, marginalized communities in India on their human rights, so that they can effectively use the law to defend and protect their rights. Women and men living in tea gardens in Assam and slums in Delhi are trained to document and bring evidence of maternal health rights violations and hold power accountable, demanding increased access to quality healthcare for women, children and their broader communities. Nazdeek’s strategy works. Thanks to the training, women in Assam and Delhi have successfully secured ambulances, medical personnel, maternal healthcare, and access to nutrition and medicine, water supply, sanitation, and drainage in their communities.
Dr. Iftikher Mahmood is a pediatrician from Cox’s Bazar in southern Bangladesh who, for the last 15 years, has been been quietly fighting to bring healthcare to the most marginalized, poor communities — particularly women. HOPE Foundation has been working to ensure women have access to essential, quality obstetric care, as well as fistula surgery and rehabilitation, and other services. In 2017, the Rohingya refugee crisis exploded in Cox’s Bazar, and immediately HOPE Foundation was on the front lines, ensuring communities have basic healthcare, and that the 50,000 pregnant women living in the camps have safe pregnancies and deliveries.
Since 2011, Nurse Joyce Ngowi has served as a nurse at the Foundation for African Medicine and Education (FAME), moving into her role as FAME’s Reproductive & Child Health Coordinator in 2014. Raised in the village of Marangu on the slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro, Joyce decided to go to school to get her degree in nursing and midwifery because she wanted to help her community. Joyce came to FAME because she wanted to keep learning and improving as a nurse. She cares about mothers, and wants to help them to know their rights, give birth safely, and be healthy. She provides marginalized Maasai women with quality, respectful care, and is a true leader in her community for it.
Learn more about the partners we support at everymothercounts.org.