By ERANGA ISAAC
THE role of women in Maternal Newborn and Child Health Advocacy and Services cannot be over-emphasized. Below are six steps suggested by Alice Welbourn, Founding Director of Salamander Trust.
The first suggested step is that we keep things simple. We all have really complex lives and simplicity is always welcome! Here are some examples of how to keep things simple. Firstly, language. As I have explained elsewhere, we know now from recent scientific research that use of actually makes us feel good because of increased oxytocin and serotonin levels in our bodies. It also enables us to use our right brains more. Left brains are great for doing things to do with engineering or medicine. But when it comes to the socio-political dimensions of health, which as Kate Gilmore just explained is what we are talking about here, it is really useful for us to enlist the support of our right brains, where creative thinking and the development of ‘out of the box” positive future possibilities resides. It’s also a good idea, wherever possible, to use clear language. one medical doctor I know asked me.
What “MNCH” is-and if these letters were even a problem for her, then it goes to show how much we need to think about use of everyday language wherever possible, so as not to make people feel alienated. Next, I suggest that we offer dual protection (for example, protection against unplanned pregnancies and against sexually transmitted infection (transmission) to all women and children, irrespective of their HIV status. I suggest this especially because we have heard from colleagues in this region, for instance, that women with HIV are only offered condoms at health centers and no other contraceptive, on the basis that they shouldn’t be having sex anyway, let alone daring to think of having children. Yet as we all know, it is now possible for women with HIV to have 99 percent HIV-free babies through normal vaginal delivery, so this practice is unjust and unscientific. We all know how much health workers are held in esteem in their communities. So just imagine if all health staff treated all women and girls equally, regardless of our status. That would send out such a powerful message to the communities where they work. My third suggestion is that we make all services available, affordable, acceptable, and accessible to women and girls. Let’s make services fit for people instead of going on expecting people to fit into services. Like Cinderella and the glass slipper, we all need to think about putting our feet in the shoes, or the sandals or even the bare footprints of women and girls whom we anyone wanting to support women and girls needs to ensure that they entirely understand things from their perspective if they hope to have any success. of course the best way to do this is to involve women and girls in the design, planning, implementation are wanting to use the services, and monitoring and evaluation of services and related advocacy work. Everyone who is really involved in something wants to see it being successful.
My fourth suggestion for keeping things simple is for us to talk about “women” and “girls” instead of “ and “mothers.” why is it that we keep defining our gender with labels that associate us wit other people or contexts? As appendages to other priorities? Let’s just stick to women and girls whenever we can, so we are defined in our
own rights rather than in relation to others.
The second suggested step is about safety.
The world Health Organization (WHO) tells us pregnancy alone can lead to gender-based violence (GBV) for some, especially if the pregnancy is unplanned. we also know very clearly now that GBV can increase women’s vulnerability to HIV and that-conversely-an HIV diagnosis can provoke or exacerbate GBV.
It is also clear to any who have experienced GBV that fear of violence is as big as actual violence-and the emotional and psychological effects of violence or fear of violence can last years after actual physical signs may have faded away. This is being borne out ‘in recent research by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. There is a wonderful website and book called “Why Love Matters by Sue Gerhardt”, who explains very compassionately how critically important it is to a baby’s well-being that she or his mother is psychologically and emotionally healthy, while the child is in the womb and in the first hours, days, and weeks of the child’s birth. I use the term ‘mother” here advisedly, in the context of this strong mother/child dyad and in recognizing the critical importance of this primal bond between a woman and her baby in these early stages of the child’s life. If this bond is damaged in anyway, it can have far-reaching effects on the child’s development, which can carry on into adulthood. so even if anyone felt that they had no interest in a woman’s health in her own right, surely they ought to be concerned, for the baby’s health, to ensure that we all support the development of that bond as best we can. so it is clear, surely, that a healthy baby needs a healthy mother. so let’s make sure that we make this happen.
We need to ensure psychological, physical, and sexual safety for all women and girls at all times.
And we need institutional care and safety for all women at all times. We need to ensure that every woman knows that whenever she goes near a health center she will be guaranteed confidentiality, support, dignity, and respect.
Negotiating when, where, how, with whom we have sex, with safety and-heaven forbid, with pleasure-is way how with whom we have sex with safety and-heaven of the reach of so many women and girls around the world.
This must change. of course all of us women and girls need information, education, skills, and consent.
And surely we all need to have our rights to bodily autonomy upheld, as Kate Gilmore was explaining. What I find quite strange about this women deliver conference is that in all the sessions I have gone to, I have heard very little mention Millennium Development Goal 3. Yet surely MDG 3 is critical to achieving all the MDGs? Why is MDG 3 missing from the debate? I am not aware that we have achieved it. I really believe that we all need to be ensuring that we include MUG 3 in all our debates both now and beyond 2015. And my last point in relation to sex is that sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) of women and girls, in all our diversities, and the MNCH agenda are inseparable. Indeed I would say that the MNCH agenda is a sub-set of the SRHR agenda. We can only achieve effective and successful MNCH if we set it within the. wider enabling environment of comprehensive SRHR for us all.
4 – Fourth step is about support. Women “do” peer support really well.
i was talking to a senior bank executive a few years ago and he said that if you tell a man something he tells no one and keeps it to himself. whereas if you tell a woman something and she thinks it’s a good idea, she shares it with an average of seven girlfriends.
You may all laugh-but the advertising world knows this all too well and they target their advertising accordingly.