A Celebration of Leaders

Dec 14, 2021 | Blog

As we look back over 2021, White Ribbon Alliance is filled with gratitude for all we were able to accomplish, despite the challenges faced during the continued pandemic. Our movement has always been about individual leaders coming together to create transformational change for women, girls, and communities. Our locally led approach is one that celebrates today’s change makers while helping to nurture and support future leaders. So, as we reflect on the year, we invite you to hear from some of WRA’s leaders, who share some of the year’s successes and tell us what is ahead for 2022.

Former CEO, Betsy McCallon: I stepped down as CEO in October, after many years with WRA. When I look back on this last year, the one accomplishment I am most proud of is our commitment to Generation Equality Forum to mobilize 2 million+ women and girls—in all their diversity, including trans, intersex and non-binary people—around the information they want and need to make decisions about their health, bodies, and well-being. This commitment put a huge stake in the ground for WRA and all that it means for our future work to be fully driven by girls and women demands and their power to make change. 

But all girls and women must be secure in their rights to respectful and quality healthcare and live in a gender equal world. As a global alliance, WRA will be focusing on operationalizing our Generation Equality Forum commitment in the coming months to make that happen. To meet this goal, we must recruit new and diverse members and partners.

 As I pass the torch to the new generation of advocates lead by WRA’s new CEO Kristy Kade and Deputy CEO Angela Nguku, I vow to deepen my commitment. 

 CEO Kristy Kade and Angela Nguku, Deputy CEO: As we take the torch from Betsy, we thank her steadfast commitment to White Ribbon Alliance, and for her trust in us to deepen WRA’s impact for women and girls.

While 2021 gave us much to celebrate, the accomplishment that motivates us most is the totality of what we’ve now achieved from the What Women Want campaign. Women’s and girls’ demands resulted in more than 20 major policy wins and the mobilization of over $11 million dollars in domestic funding for reproductive, maternal, newborn and child health services and supplies in the campaign’s eight focus countries. We also saw more than 350 facilities significantly upgraded resulting from the campaign, including with: running water, operational blood banks, and services to prevent and treat gender-based violence and better attend to people with disabilities, all where there were none before. Take that in for a moment. That is real progress for women and girls.

 That progress tells us health practitioners, policymakers and programmers are starting to listen to women and understand that when their self-articulated needs are acted upon, everybody wins. Another group that is consistently under-represented and whose voices often go unheard are midwives, yet it is midwives who are leading the charge for the full spectrum of women’s and girls’ reproductive and maternal health and rights. That is why we are mobilizing more than 50,000 midwife voices over the next several months with plans to release their demands in advance of International Day of the Midwife in 2022.

 We are honored to pass the torch to one of WRA’s most innovative leaders, Rafia Rauf of WRA Pakistan.

Rafia Rauf, Project Director, WRA Pakistan: As I take the torch from Kristy and Angela, I am struck by just how much we have to celebrate. In 2021 WRA Pakistan completed a robust, multi-pronged effort to understand and meet women’s and girls’ needs. We began with a comprehensive landscape analysis on family planning in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province that included innovative listening sessions in two districts. We took the findings along with those from our original What Women Want campaign – which heard from 250,000 women from across Pakistan – to decisionmakers through a series of online, in person, group, and individual sessions, and meetings. We simultaneously published a series of articles based on the findings, targeting newspapers that are most often read by policy makers. Our efforts resulted in real action from the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provincial government, which increased the family planning budget by more than 50 percent – the equivalent of over $8 million dollars.

 In the year ahead we will work closely with provincial decision-makers as they establish mobile service units in marginalized areas, set up 200 new family welfare centres, launch 10 adolescent sexual and reproductive health centres, and strengthen existing service delivery units across Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. It is quite an undertaking, and we need your help to ensure that women and girls and their self-articulated needs are at the centre of this effort.

And now, I pass the torch to my colleague Sandra Mwarania, in Kenya.

Sandra Mwarania, Advocacy and Program Manager, WRA Kenya: As I take the torch from Rafia in Pakistan, I am so proud of our cause to realize quality health and well-being, and gender equality for all women and girls. I’m also proud of our impact.

Through the What Women Want campaign, women and girls in Kajiado County requested more information about their reproductive and maternal health and rights, to have better ability to control household resources and make decisions for themselves and their families, and improved access to health facilities, including strengthened security measures. In 2021, and as a direct result of the ongoing campaign, the Kajiado County government developed and launched a gender mainstreaming policy that included all these intersecting issues of women’s health, economic empowerment, and safety. This policy is not only vital for addressing gender inequality, but also for rectifying COVID-19’s disproportionate impact on women and girls. In the year ahead we will engage with health practitioners, educators, local community groups, and multi-sector partners so that this new policy is understood and implemented in the way that women and girls meant.

 Now, I pass the torch to George Nkhoma of WRA Malawi.

George Nkhoma, Program Officer, WRA Malawi: As I take the torch from my colleague Sandra in Kenya, I give thanks to all the midwives in Malawi and worldwide who provide life-saving care and services to women, girls, and newborns. For those of you who don’t remember me, I became a midwife after learning that my mother died while giving birth to me. I am privileged to use my education, talents, and voice to ensure that no woman in my care dies needlessly in childbirth.

 Malawi has long had a shortage of midwives, directly contributing to its poor maternal and newborn health outcomes. That is why I am proud to celebrate a 50% increase in Malawi’s overall midwifery workforce since 2017, which followed a directive from former President Mutharika after he heard the results of WRA Malawi’s What Women Want campaign, where women overwhelmingly asked for respectful and dignified care, including friendly and courteous health workers, informed consent, choice of provider when receiving care, and the right to a companion when receiving care.

The Ministry of Health also adopted the updated Respectful Maternity Care Charter: The Universal Rights of Women and Newborns, a seminal tool that helps women understand and demand their rights while receiving maternity care within a health facility, and health workers to provide respectful care to women and newborns. They distributed the Charter to all public district health facilities in the country and are actively incorporating the Charter into midwifery in-service training—with the goal of fostering a respectful and dignified maternity experience as the norm, leading to greater utilization of life-saving reproductive, maternal, and newborn health services. 

As we look to 2022, we will strengthen our efforts to ensure that every woman has a supportive, caring midwife by her side throughout her reproductive years, guiding her and her family with the best information, services, and care.

 I gratefully pass the torch to my colleague Kay King of WRA UK.

Kay King, Executive Director, WRA UK: As I take the torch from my colleague George in Malawi, I feel immense pride in our professions. He a midwife, me a doula, both activists for safer pregnancy and childbirth.

 When the COVID-19 pandemic exposed systemic challenges within and beyond the healthcare system, White Ribbon Alliance UK launched the Safer Together eLearning modules in partnership with All4Maternity, providing open-access education about culture, race, and bias within midwifery care to the maternity sector. Grounded in the Respectful Maternity Care Charter: Universal Rights of Women and Newborns, our work also equipped advocates with the tools to ensure that women, families, and communities received evidence-based information about how the pandemic might impact their health in pregnancy, childbirth, and postpartum.

 But we did not stop there: 3,500 women and families received support with pregnancy, labor, birth, and antenatal services through a multi-partner program to provide grassroots level webinars and trainings for women and birthing people.

We have several core initiatives underway that we will grow in 2022.

 Faced with long work hours, often without time for proper meal and restroom breaks, midwives across the UK are at a breaking point and 29 out of 30 midwives are likely to leave the profession after just two years. All birthing people deserve to have the pregnancy and childbirth experience of their choice, something that cannot happen without trained and supported midwives. It is with this backdrop that we continue to host the Childbirth Choices Matter campaign and our work in support of the March with Midwives. We are also delighted to end the year with the news that our joint application to the UK Department of Digital, Cultural, Media and Sport Tampon Tax Fund was accepted, and we will be working in partnership with Best Beginnings to support those who have experienced violence in their maternity journey, including physical, emotional, and obstetric violence, domestic abuse, and female genital mutilation.

 Now, I pass the torch to my colleague Dr. Leila Varkey of WRA India.

Dr. Leila Varkey, WRA India: As I take the torch from my colleague Kay in the UK, I applaud their efforts to advance evidence-based, respectful care grounded in human rights, a long-held focus here in India. It has been such an honour to volunteer with, and then to work full time for, WRA India at Centre for Catalyzing Change, or C3.

 This year White Ribbon Alliance India implemented a campaign called #baarahaqhamara, or Our 12 Rights, to disseminate the updated Respectful Maternity Care Charter across India. Under this campaign, we used a variety of platforms and languages to share the charter and to seek endorsements of this groundbreaking document. So far, we have secured endorsements from 65 global, national, and local organizations, governments, and institutions of higher learning. These endorsements help establish a shared vision of what quality, respectful, and dignified reproductive and maternal healthcare looks like – not only on paper – but in practice.

 To reach more health decisionmakers, practitioners, educators and women and families, WRA India is developing 12 small films on each of the 12 rights detailed in the Charter. These films will be shown across social media, at events and meetings, and with a wide range of partners to help ensure women’s and newborns’ rights during pregnancy, childbirth and postpartum are understood, valued, and adhered to. WRA India is also continuing to collect and amplify voices of women. Following on our work from the What Women Want campaign we are now collecting the voices of midwives to ensure they have what they need to fulfill their role as trusted and supported professionals. But we need your help to bring this vital information to as many people, and hear from as many midwives, as possible.

 Now, I pass the torch to my colleague Christy Asala of WRA Nigeria.

Christiana Asala, WRA Nigeria:  As I take the torch from Leila in India, I am so proud to be part of this movement, and of WRA Nigeria’s contributions.

Our advocacy spurred the release of vital funding to 274 focal primary health care facilities in Niger State. Through our work and in direct response to what we heard from women and girls in the What Women Want campaign, 10 primary health care centers were equipped with running water and sanitation facilities, benefitting a service population of more than 400,000 people. But we did not stop there. Our advocacy led 100 midwives, 100 nurses, and 100 community health extension workers in remote communities, being hired through the Basic Health Care Provision Fund. These are transformational changes for huge populations of women and girls, helping them receive quality, respectful, and dignified healthcare. And most importantly, these actions sent a loud and clear message to Nigerian women and girls that we are listening!

 But we will not stop until every woman and girl in Nigeria has access to information about her right to quality health services, and to a fully functioning health facility with clean, running water and working toilets. We also know our job is not done until all women have a trained and supported midwife by her side through pregnancy, childbirth, and post-partum. It will not be easy, but with strong leaders, we know we can achieve our goals.


Now, as I pass the torch to all my WRA colleagues around the world, I hope you deepen your commitment our movement and help us realize quality health and well-being, and gender equality for all women and girls.

Final thoughts from WRA leaders:

As 2021 draws to a close, let’s take a final moment to celebrate all that we have accomplished together.

 From nearly two dozen policy wins to hundreds of health centers upgraded with clean water and sanitation facilities, to $11 million in funding mobilized for vital reproductive and maternal healthcare services, and more – we have so much to be proud of. From Nigeria, to Pakistan, to the UK and Malawi, from Kenya to India and the United States, you heard from just a handful of WRA’s leaders over the last several weeks, but there are so many more who are working just as hard to help us realize quality health and well-being, and gender equality for all women and girls. We all feel your support and we thank you.

But we are not done. We have so much we want to achieve in 2022.

 We must continue to deliver on responding to women’s demands so that every person who spoke up during the What Women Want campaign knows the world is indeed listening. In this final year of the campaign, we need your help so we can realize our robust advocacy agendas based on women’s specific needs and engage with partners at all levels to see them through.

 For example, we are working in Kenya to ensure laws are enforced to protect adolescent girls from gender-based violence, and health facilities are equipped with accessible ramps, maternity beds, and translation services for women with disabilities. In India and Malawi, women asked for better systems to report complaints of disrespect and abuse and know when corrective actions have been implemented. We have begun efforts to make sure they get them. And in Uganda, we are advocating with the government and private sector to provide free or affordable reusable menstrual products and waste systems within all schools and health facilities, and with the Ministry of Health to provide free Mama Kits for all pregnant women in the country, including refugees, at public health facilities.

 We will not rest until we see every demand realized so that we can change the conversation from that of What Women Want to What Women Won.

 As every WRA leader holds their torch up high to light the way for a bright 2022, we ask you to deepen your commitment to our movement and to women and girls the world over. 

Your donation today will help us support the leaders of tomorrow.

 In solidarity and with gratitude,

 White Ribbon Alliance Leaders Everywhere!

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