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A group of young mothers smile for the camera in Shinyanga, Tanzania

Healthier Women, Healthier World

Reflections from 2018

In many ways, women were center stage in 2018.

Nadia Murad and Denis Mukwege received the Nobel Peace Prize.

After being a victim of sexual violence under the Islamic State, Ms. Murad has become a human rights activist, advocating for an end to sexual violence as a weapon of war and helping victims like her to rebuild their lives.

Dr. Mukwege founded a hospital in Bukavu, Democratic Republic of the Congo, where he has treated thousands of women raped by armed rebels. Pathfinder also works in the country to improve the lives of Congolese women, and we recognize how remarkable Dr. Mukwege’s work has been.

The #MeToo movement resounded globally—giving a sense of public urgency to sexual assault and violence against women.

Women now hold 24 percent of US Congress seats—the greatest share in US history. Both the Senate and House of Representatives introduced legislation that focuses on women’s economic empowerment around the world.

The world is talking about what Pathfinder has long known—that the inequities facing women are vast—and that the global community won’t prosper unless women are given an equal chance.

As we have for more than 60 years, Pathfinder continued to stand #ByHerSide in 2018 with programs that not only expanded women’s access to sexual and reproductive health care, but also to opportunities for economic and social development.

After all, not being able to plan is holding too many women back.

When women can’t access sexual and reproductive health services, including contraception, they can’t plan their families or their futures. Too often, girls have their first child before they finish school, many when they are still children themselves. Too often, they can’t time and space their pregnancies, which prevents them from making central decisions about their lives, earning an income, and growing into healthy adults.

We know that when women are held back, entire communities and nations are held back too.

As we move into 2019, we must continue to push for sexual and reproductive healthcare to be an innate part of the systems and programs that are created to support women and families.

Primary healthcare is a promising start. Universal health coverage must ensure that primary healthcare includes free and high-quality family planning services as part of the essential health benefits package.  In my op-ed earlier this year, I wrote about this, pointing to Ethiopia and Burkina Faso as examples of countries leading the way.

A new report from the Center for Strategic and International Studies makes an important point—to have an impact on the lives of women and girls, we must clearly link economic empowerment to women’s health.

At Pathfinder, we agree. You cannot have one without the other.

Our work in Tanzania is a case in point. We support community conservation banks to offer women low-interest loans. Women use the loans to start environmentally conscious businesses, receive health insurance, and, at the same time, join discussions about reproductive health and where to access services.

A woman in Kigoma, Tanzania, dries fresh fish along the shores of Lake Tanganyika

Through our global USAID-funded Evidence to Action Project, in Tanzania, Burkina Faso, and Nigeria, we have initiated programs for first-time mothers. These programs appoint certain first-time mothers as leaders who facilitate discussions with their fellow young mothers about sexual and reproductive health and gender issues, and other pressing issues they face. The group leaders tell their peers where they can access reproductive health and maternal and newborn care—and how important it is to do so. Many of these mothers have told us that they want to delay or space future births until they can earn a viable income and sustain their families. With the generous support of USAID—which, like Pathfinder, recognizes how vital women’s health is to economic prosperity—we are supporting them to do that.

These are examples of how Pathfinder views women’s empowerment—giving women the necessary resources to plan for—and, in turn, realize—healthy and prosperous futures.

As the year comes to an end, I want to express my gratitude to our partners and donors who have stood #ByHerSide. You have allowed us to go where the need is greatest, and to support women and communities most in need to forge their own path to a healthier future.