What Women Want Findings from Malawi and Nigeria Revealed, Setting the Stage for Accountability to Women and Girls
By Stephanie Bowen, Director, Strategic Communication, White Ribbon Alliance
“What women want is what the world needs! Action on what women want is what the entire world needs,” declared Dr. Githinji Gitahi, Global CEO of Amref Health Africa and Co-Chair of UHC2030. The setting was the annual accountability breakfast hosted by the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health alongside the UN General Assembly meetings. His enthusiastic endorsement of the What Women Want campaign joined a chorus of others after the findings from Malawi and Nigeria were shared with more than 200 attendees consisting of country delegates, private sector organizations, nongovernmental organizations, researchers, UN agencies and others.
Water, sanitation and hygiene; respectful care among top demands from respondents in both countries, revealing that the most basic needs that women are asking for are not being met.
“I went to a facility and there was no water for the midwife to wash her hands,” Tariah Adams, Senior Communications and Advocacy Officer for White Ribbon Alliance Nigeria and campaign mobilizer told the rapt crowd. “There were many times I was close to tears.”
Of the 78,066 responses in Nigeria, water, sanitation and hygiene was the top request with many women asking for clean maternity wards and clean toilets in rural facilities. According to the World Health Organization, every year, 17 million women worldwide give birth in healthcare facilities without adequate water, soap and toilets. Forty percent of all neonatal deaths could be prevented if health providers and parents had access to soap.
“I would go to the women and they would ask me, ‘so after reading my response, what is next?’ And I would say to them, we will find a way to not just listen, but we will find a way to make sure that the world acts,” Adams continued. “For me, the victory of this campaign and for every woman out there, that if we go back to the facility two years from today and there is water, then that is victory. So, that’s the way forward. Accountability to those women.”
Respectful and dignified care was the top request among 84,058 women and girls who voiced their demands across six districts in Malawi. Globally disrespect and abuse in facilities are among the biggest barriers to women seeking maternal health services.
“In Malawi we have a new Minister of Health, a new Chairperson of the Parliamentary Committee of Health and a new Deputy Director in the Ministry; and I’m also two weeks old on this position,” said Hester Nyasulu, who made his debut as Executive Director of White Ribbon Alliance Malawi at the annual event meant to advance accountability from all sectors. “We have a very great opportunity to come together to address these actionable issues that women have raised.”
“What Women Want should be thought about in terms of what women need. How many of us here are not in health? Two…out of 300. [What Women Want] talked about the need for non-health interventions like WASH, electricity. We need to come out of our health bubble, and we can do that by expanding the conversation, collaboration and partnerships with private sector,” said Mary-Ann Etiebet, Executive Director, Merck for Mothers.
The ground-breaking What Women Want Campaign is the largest ever open-ended survey into women’s opinion on their own needs for quality reproductive and maternal healthcare. Global findings were released at Women Deliver in June. Findings from Malawi and Nigeria were the first country results released and are now setting the stage for robust advocacy agendas based on women’s and girl’s self-articulated reproductive and maternal healthcare needs.
The theme of this year’s breakfast was leaving no woman, child or adolescent behind on the road to Universal Health Coverage (UHC).
“You and me, we have a role to play,” said Angela Nguku, Executive Director of White Ribbon Alliance Kenya who moderated the What Women Want discussion. “We are working for women and girls. Quality is a key principle of UHC, we cannot achieve UHC if we do not have that.”
“What Women Want was an amazing effort to record the healthcare demands of 1.2 million women in 114 countries,” said former Prime Minister of New Zealand, Helen Clark, the incoming PMNCH Board Chair. “Those demands are often for basic rights. As basic as being treated with respect by health workers. We all expect and deserve that, no matter where we are from or what our context is. We especially need to listen to women, who in my opinion are always very good judges of what they need and what their priorities are.”
Indeed, What Women Want was an unprecedented effort to ask and listen to what more than a million experts want for their own reproductive and maternal health care, an effort that inherently valued women and the evidence supplied by their voices.
“If we are to truly be accountable to women and girls, we must act on what they have told us,” said Betsy McCallon, CEO of White Ribbon Alliance and Chair of the PMNCH Nongovernmental Constituency. “And when we are accountable, reproductive and maternal health outcomes will improve, for it will mean that services are finally responsive to what women want and need.”
Results from countries Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda will be released in November alongside the 25th anniversary of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD25) in Nairobi, Kenya, followed by advocacy agendas that advance women’s and girls’ self-articulated needs.