International Women’s Day is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural, political, and other achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action to break down barriers, empower, and accelerate the agency of women and girls to take purposeful action and pursue their goals, free from the threat of retribution or violence. This approach is at the center of Pathfinder International’s model – mobilizing communities that are most in need, to break through barriers and forge their own paths to a healthier future.
Globally, women experience a disproportionate burden of disease and death due to inequities in access to basic health care, nutrition, and education. We can argue that global health exists to reduce health inequalities, and that women have been shown to be more effective than men in this regard1. It is also observed that a considerable proportion of caregiving takes place within the household and the community, particularly in settings where formal health services are physically or financially unattainable. Household and community level of care places women at the center of care.
Pathfinder, through the USAID/Uganda Family Planning Activity (FPA) project, has the objective to address underlying social, cultural, and structural barriers to family planning access, particularly among adolescents, youth, first-time parents, and low-parity women in 11 districts across the country, with the ultimate goal of creating an environment where they are empowered to freely and with the necessary support, make healthy reproductive choices – ones that they own. Pathfinder has formalized and is thus promoting community level access to reproductive health information and services, through community health worker programs. The nationally recognized Village Health Teams (VHT) are at the center of this work, playing a critical interface role between communities and the health facility, and in the process addressing gendered social determinants of health.
Driven by the need to support women to overcome the intrinsic health inequalities in their communities, USAID/FPA team has supported over 1000 VHTs to improve their data collection and reporting skills, so that data can adequately inform programming.
The use of existing community structures to increase access to vital health services by USAID/FPA goes beyond VHT engagement to include youth champions, religious and cultural leaders as influencers and resource persons within communities to identify, engage and mitigate the root causes of observed negative social norms, including gender inequalities, cultural practices, values, and religious beliefs that inhibit reproductive health services access and use. The influencers leverage existing cultural, religious, and community structures (such as churches, women’s groups, youth groups, savings groups, and traditional gatherings) as platforms to raise awareness on the benefits of family planning and influence the adoption of healthy reproductive behaviors.
With substantial evidence that healthy populations are a foundation for sustainable socioeconomic development, and that women by virtue of their reproductive roles and societal inequalities are often less likely to enjoy health in its fullness2, it is important that the numerous pathways by which greater gender equality can lead to improvements in health and quality of life for women and girls are promoted, for more inclusive development.
Pathfinder believes that the smartest way to solve the world’s toughest challenges is by investing in women. In line with the UN’s International Women’s Day theme for 2022, “Gender equality today for a sustainable tomorrow”, Pathfinder International will continue to #BreaktheBias, by promoting women’s rights and inspiring people to act in the ongoing fight for gender equality, while celebrating girls and women who are leading the charge toward a more sustainable future.
1 Downs et al. 2014
2 Population Dynamics, Reproductive Health and Sustainable Development: Critical Links and Opportunities for Post-2015