On International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women and Girls, hear from grant holders Afghanaid

25 November marks the start of the 16 Days of Activism against gender-based violence, which runs every year from the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, to Human Rights Day on 10 December.

For UK Aid Direct grant holders Afghanaid, the principle of gender equality underpins their work.

With an Impact grant for their project entitled ‘Empowering Afghan women to reduce poverty and promote equality’ the organisation aims to empower vulnerable women in some of the most remote areas of Afghanistan.

This is what Afghanaid had to say about the challenges to their project:

“Although the protection of gender rights has made significant legislative progress in Afghanistan over the last decade, the country continues to be one of the most difficult places in the world to be a woman. Women and girls still face major barriers to education, employment, and participation in decision-making processes in their own homes and communities.”

“As a result, they have very little influence over the issues which affect their day-to-day lives the most, for example marriage and family planning. Perceived as bearers of male and community honour, women frequently face violence if they go against established gender roles. More than 87% of Afghan women and girls still suffer from at least one form of abuse, ranging from physical or psychological violence, to forced marriage.”

A photograph of Afghanaid beneficiary

This is Zahra (pictured). She lives in a remote rural village in Ghor province. Afghanaid is supporting Zahra to establish her own small business by giving her equipment and training in a vocational skill, as well as training in enterprise development, basic literacy and numeracy, and financial management.

Through this project, Zahra will gain the skills and resources to earn an income and lift her family out of poverty.

“We know that when women in rural Afghanistan start to bring money into poor households, they gain greater respect from their male family members. We will also be teaching the women about family planning and reproductive health. Once they have a greater knowledge and understanding of these topics, they will be able to harness their improved social standing to influence decisions over family planning and the early marriage of their daughters.”

Zahra was just 14 when she was forced to married her husband. He came to her father one day to ask for her hand, and he agreed without consulting her. One month later the marriage took place. The marriage has not been a happy one for Zahra.

“Thanks to Afghanaid, women are becoming more educated and our entire community is becoming more aware of women’s rights, including issues like early and forced marriage, as well as family planning. I was not so lucky. On my wedding day I was very sad to be taken away from my family to live with a man I did not know, and this is not the future I want for my daughters.

“My husband and I have seven children. He wanted to have a big family. He wouldn’t allow me a say in the matter. He does not have much respect for me so I would not have been able to change his mind.

My husband has problems with his knees, which leave him unable to work and we have struggled to provide for our large family. I would like to be able to afford education and nutritious food for my children, but at the moment I cannot.”

To Zahra, education and getting into work are the key to improving the lives of women like herself.

“If women are educated, if they earn an income and contribute to their family, they will get more respect from their husbands. With Afghanaid’s help, I hope to learn a skill and get into work, so that I can provide for my family and have a better relationship with my husband and sons.”

Afghanaid will also be working with male family members and mothers-in-law to increase their understanding of women’s issues. In this way, the entire community can stand together to improve gender equality and the long-term alleviation of poverty.

To find out more about Afghanaid’s work, visit their website at afghanaid.org

 

How smartphones are reducing infant and maternal mortality rates in rural Pakistan

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To mark the recent International Day of the Midwife we share a story of how one grant holder’s use of smartphone technology is reducing infant and maternal mortality rates in rural Pakistan.

Keeping a woman and her baby safe in pregnancy and childbirth continues to be a challenge for many developing countries, especially among rural communities.

In the Badin district of Pakistan’s Sindh province most of the villages are in remote areas, with little or no real infrastructure connecting them to towns where health centres are located:

  • it can take 3 hours to reach the nearest health clinic, and as a result women do not attend pre-natal clinics for check-ups
  • some women are not allowed to travel outside of their villages alone and husbands are often unwilling to escort their wives, as this could result in them losing a day’s pay
  • babies are normally born at home with the assistance of an elder woman from the village without any formal training

100 villages are now benefiting from a UK Aid Direct funded programme, focused on improving maternal health and infant survival rates.
Since the implementation of the 2.5-year health education project, communities have seen:

  • infant mortality rates down from 106/1,000 per live birth to 40/1,000 per live birth (according to the Sindh Multi Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS) 2014)
  • maternal mortality rates down from 314/100,000 to 100/100,000 per live birth (according to the Maternal Mortality Ratio in Sindh)

So, how has this been achieved and how significant a role has technology played in this?

UK-based international development organisation Feed the Minds, partnered with Pakistan-based NRDP (National Rural Development Program) to establish 100 women’s health committees with 700 members in the area.
Over 100 local women are now trained to become safe, community birth attendants, enabling them to help their immediate families, as well as pass their knowledge on to others.

The community birth attendants are paired up with doctors from health centres. Using smartphones, the doctors provide practical and emotional support for both the attendant and mothers-to-be – working as a cost-effective method for the organisation to achieve widespread local healthcare.

“Using SMS messaging, trained doctors are able to relay messages and instructions to community birth attendants in rural locations, providing them with vital information, whilst supporting mothers during childbirth,” advised Albha Bowe, Programme Director from Feed the Minds.

“Aside from communication via text, the phones are also used to store and access important records about the mother’s health.  If a situation or symptoms are presented that are outside of the training of the community birth attendant, they can seek medical advice from the doctor, using the mobile phone service. The doctor then provides feedback on whether they feel the condition can be resolved at home or the individual should be referred to the local hospital.”

Khalida Bibi, a Community Birth Attendant said:
“I have performed 82 deliveries and referred 23 complicated cases to health facilities – saving 7 lives through this smartphone referral mechanism. I have also provided counselling to 371 pregnant women on nutrition, care, family planning, vaccination and hygiene issues.”

To find out more about the work of Feed the Minds, visit their website here

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On International Women’s Day, we celebrate improvements in SRHR for women in rural Nepal

UK Aid Direct grant holder, PHASE Worldwide is currently working to improve the lives and sexual and reproductive health and rights of women in rural Nepal.

Few organisations work in such remote places as PHASE Worldwide. It takes 2-3 weeks to arrive by donkey here.
Few organisations work in such remote places as PHASE Worldwide.

The Karnali region, which takes 2-3 weeks of travel on a donkey to access, is one of the poorest and most remote areas in Nepal.

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The region has the highest proportion of women (35%) in Nepal who report receiving no antenatal care.

Contraceptive prevalence is lower than the national average and only 45% of women aged between 15 and 49 have reported receiving antenatal care (at least once) from a skilled individual, with just 29% of deliveries attended by a qualified health worker.

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PHASE Worldwide is making great strides to change these statistics.

The organisation employs qualified health workers who live in the community and work closely with government staff in health services.

Based in the government health centre 4 days a week, and conducting outreach activities 2 days a week, PHASE staff build strong relationships with local women’s groups and provide workshops and community meetings to offer a platform for discussions and working together.

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Health workers offer guidance on issues such as hygiene and the dangers from certain cultural practices such as Chhaupadi, when mothers are excluded from the family home during (and after) childbirth, and during menstruation.

Maila health post Humla: a PHASE Auxilary Nurse Midwife listens to baby's heartbeat

Maila health post Humla: a PHASE Auxilary Nurse Midwife listens to baby’s heartbeat

The major change that has happened as a result of this project is that many of the women in the region are attending the birthing centre to have their babies. Since PHASE started work in 2008 no women have died in childbirth in the village and very few babies have died, both common events before the project started.

The major change which has happened as part of this project is that many of the women in the region are attending the birthing centre to have their babies.

Thank you to PHASE Worldwide for sharing their stories and photographs with us.