New Reproductive and Maternal Health Advocacy Agenda Shaped by Demands from 1.2 Million Women and Girls; Urgent Response Needed in Wake of COVID-19

Jun 24, 2020 | Global Secretariat, GS, News, Press Release

June 24, 2020, Washington, D.C. – White Ribbon Alliance today released a robust advocacy agenda for reproductive and maternal health, driven by the demands from 1.2 million women’s and girls’ who voiced their needs in the What Women Want campaign survey.

Through What Women Want: Demands for Quality Healthcare from Women and Girls, more than 350 partners collectively asked over one million women and girls in 114 countries about their top priority for quality maternal and reproductive healthcare services. The goal: to generate political commitment, investment and accountability for what women want for their health, as they define it.

The largest ever survey into women’s and girls’ opinions of their health needs, What Women Want was also an inquiry into values; into how women and girls value themselves, how they are valued, how we value the evidence supplied by their voices. The open-ended question let women and girls set the agenda, as opposed to beginning with a premise of what is important or asking them to decide among a set of options.

Working with national and global partners and many of the women and girls who participated in What Women Want, White Ribbon Alliance has created a bold advocacy agenda, accompanied by simple worksheets that governments, donors, community organizations and individuals can use to make their commitments and track actions to help deliver what women want.

We ask everyone who is working to advance quality reproductive and maternal healthcare to institute transparent, functional mechanisms where women’s and girls’ self-articulated needs are routinely captured and used to set and monitor policy and program priorities. Then, according to issue area, the following action agenda aligns with the top five demands from What Women Want. They are:


#1 Respectful and dignified care

Respectful care is a right, but it is also vitally important to improving health outcomes. When women receive respectful dignified care throughout their pregnancy and childbirth, they seek recommended services and promote the same among their communities. Conversely, when they experience disrespect and abuse, they forgo care and alert others to negative experiences. This need is only heightened during emergencies when respectful care may be considered a luxury. It is not.

Call to Action:

  • Adopt respectful and dignified care standards and corresponding monitoring, reporting and redress mechanisms
  • Invest in respectful and dignified care training for health workers and rights education for communities

#2 Water, sanitation, and hygiene

Soap and clean water are vital tools in preventing disease and maintaining health. In low- and middle-income countries, one in four health facilities lack basic water services, putting patients and health providers at risk. During normal times, handwashing is key to preventing neonatal deaths and maintaining a dignified healthcare experience, during a pandemic like COVID19, it is a lifeline for midwives, healthworkers, women and newborns.

Call to Action:

  • Ensure cleanliness, functional toilet and handwashing facilities, and potable drinking water in healthcare centers in underserved areas
  • Invest in menstruation education, availability of free and/or affordable menstrual products, and menstrual waste management systems within schools and health facilities.

#3 Medicines and supplies

Women asked for crucial supplies ranging from blood to gloves to unexpired drugs, and so much more—to be available when and wherever they seek care. If a hospital or clinic is not equipped with the most basic supplies, it cannot deliver the most basic care. This is exacerbated when facilities are pushed beyond their limits due to a crisis.

Call to Action:

  • Invest in blood donation campaigns and expand operational blood banks and screening in underserved areas
  • Invest in public education campaign on entitlements and service guarantees—including how and where to access free maternal and reproductive health supplies—for vulnerable women and   girls

#4 Increased, competent, and better supported midwives and nurses

Women make up 70% of the health and social workforce globally, with the majority serving as nurses and midwives – traditionally lower paid, lower status positions – so it’s not surprising that supported nurses and midwives came in as the fourth highest demand. Meeting the needs of nurses and midwives is vital to quality maternal and reproductive health and in the global response to COVID-19, yet gender norms often contribute to deprioritizing and undervaluing these essential health workers.

Call to Action:

  • Recruit and retain more midwives in underserved areas
  • Invest in improved working conditions for midwives, including training and leadership opportunities, appropriate salaries, housing, and security

#5 Increased, fully functional, and closer health facilities

At least half of the world’s population cannot obtain essential health services, owing, in part to long distances and inadequate infrastructure. Investment in a strong primary healthcare system that delivers quality maternal and reproductive health services, close to wear women live, can transform communities. Paired with a robust referral system and functional operating and surgical theaters for higher-level care it can transform nations.

Call to Action:

  • Ensure functionality of surgical and operational theaters in health facilities in underserved areas
  • Ensure essential package of reproductive and maternal health services are available at the lowest level facility, closest to where women and girls live

Women and girls want – and are demanding – basic infrastructure, decency – which in the wake of the global COVID19 pandemic, is even more urgent. The COVID-19 pandemic is having an outsized impact on women and adolescent girls, exacerbating existing vulnerabilities. Too often, women’s and girls’ needs are relegated to the bottom of the list of priorities, and their voices go unheard, whether during an emergency or not.

“There is no greater evidence than women and girls speaking directly about their needs, in their own words,” said Aparajita Gogoi, National Coordinator of White Ribbon Alliance India and Co-Chair of the What Women Want campaign. “As countries grapple with how best to address mortality and morbidity due to COVID19, these asks from women and girls offer a clear path forward.”

Realizing What Women Want requires a concerted effort among policymakers, service providers, development agencies, donors, journalists, advocates, community organizers, women, girls and their families and neighbors. If we want better health outcomes, women’s and girls’ agenda needs to become everyone’s agenda. 

“By listening to women and letting their self-articulated needs lead the way, we will make investments that ensure health systems are responsive now and into the future,” said Kristy Kade, Deputy Executive Director of White Ribbon Alliance and Co-Chair of the What Women Want campaign. “We must challenge the power structures that routinely undervalue the voices and lives of women and girls and hinder their reproductive and maternal health. We must create a more gender equitable, post-COVID world.”


About White Ribbon Alliance:

Founded in 1999, White Ribbon Alliance is a locally led, globally connected grassroots movement advocating for the health and rights of women, girls and newborns. We actively work in partnership with women, men, their families and communities, professionals and practitioners from diverse fields and all sectors of government. We use many approaches, all of which put citizens at the center so that health policies, programs and practices are driven by lived experiences.

About the What Women Want campaign:

What Women Want is a global advocacy campaign to improve quality maternal and reproductive healthcare for women and girls and strengthen health systems. Launched on April 11, 2018—International Maternal Health and Rights Day—What Women Want queried more than one million women and girls worldwide—from capital cities to rural villages—about their top priority for quality maternal and reproductive health services. Based on Hamara Swasthya, Hamari Awaz (Our Health, Our Voices), a grassroots campaign designed in partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, White Ribbon Alliance India mobilized over 150,000 women in 2017 through the efforts of 100+ White Ribbon Alliance members.