This International Day of Maternal Health and Rights, Are You Ready to Listen – and Act – on What Women Want?
By Kristy Kade, Deputy Executive Director, White Ribbon Alliance
Listening to women is a radical idea. Acting on their demands is nothing short of revolutionary. This message came through loud and clear over the past year as White Ribbon Alliance and partners spoke with more than 1 million women and girls across 114 countries about what they want most for their reproductive and maternal healthcare as part of the unprecedented What Women Want campaign.
As an organization founded twenty years ago on the principle of amplifying women’s voices to influence – and therefore improve – reproductive and maternal health policies and programs, it came as no surprise that women would want to talk to us. What we didn’t know was how profound it would be to simply ask.
Some women had never been asked about their needs for their own healthcare. Others didn’t understand why we were asking. Some, having felt studied for years, were skeptical that their answers would change anything. One million individual conversations later, we are even more convinced than ever that women’s voices must be heard if we truly want women, girls, newborns and families to attain the highest possible level of health and well-being. We need only look to India for how it works.
After years of countrywide efforts to make sure women were delivered in facilities with trained providers with disappointing results, WRA India’s groundbreaking campaign, Hamara Swasthya, Hamari Awaz – the inspiration for the global What Women Want campaign – took to clinics, communities and everywhere in between to find out women’s top priority for maternal health care. The resounding response: to be treated with dignity and respect.
WRA India delivered the results straight to the government who listened – and acted. Working with WRA India, the government created curriculum and other tools and resources around providing and receiving respectful maternity care. They are using those tools to integrate respectful maternity care into government health facilities with the goal to improve quality of care in labor rooms and maternity centers in all government-run medical college hospitals, district hospitals, sub-district hospitals and other high case-load health facilities that will ultimately touch millions of women across the country. WRA India has now come full circle with a powerful social media campaign featuring celebrities and other champions to help educate women and girls about their rights to create an even stronger demand for respectful care.
We are now preparing to release the findings – and voices – of the global What Women Want campaign this June at the Women Deliver conference in Vancouver, then elevate them to community, national and global leaders, where they will have the opportunity to influence health policies, practices and programs. Voices from women like Hildah in Uganda who wants disabled women to have access to medicine without judgement and 21-year-old Rimsha from Pakistan who wants women to be empowered to make their own health decisions.
This International Day for Maternal Health and Rights – celebrated April 11 and the one-year anniversary of the campaign – we ask you to bookmark the What Women Want website and get ready for June 5, when the findings will be released and plans for turning the findings into country-level action will soon follow.
Together, we can let women know that their voices matter, that their needs are at the heart of our collective advocacy for global reproductive and maternal health. Together, we can achieve a world where all women and girls realize their right to quality reproductive and maternal health and well-being.