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Story and Perspective

International Women’s Day: Supporting Women with Family Planning and So Much More

Bangladesh Egypt India Jordan Pakistan

This International Women’s Day, we celebrate the women and girls we serve, and each one of our women partners who are the driving force behind healthy families, resilient communities, and strong health systems.

As we celebrate, we commit to improved and equitable access to quality sexual and reproductive health services—and so much more. We commit to programs that consider and support the needs of the many women and girls who are weathering multiple shocks from climate change, conflicts, and other crises. And we commit to partnering with those very women and girls in devising solutions to these formidable challenges.

Here are a few ways we are already doing this in the South Asia, Middle East, and North Africa regions.

Bangladesh: Engaging marginalized communities where they are

Jayanti Roy, Family Welfare Assistant, provides family planning counseling to a family in Jalalabad, Sylhet, Bangladesh. Photo: Ridwanul Mosrur

In Bangladesh, we reach individuals who are some of the most marginalized from quality sexual and reproductive health care—those living in urban slums, Rohingya refugee camps, transgender communities, and regions devastated by climate change-induced floods and natural disasters. We do this through innovative community-based approaches that include:

  • Courtyard meetings where communities engage in lively discussions about sensitive topics including family planning, early marriage, and gender norms. By intentionally engaging men, we ensure they can contribute to building healthy, gender-equitable relationships with their women partners.
  • Engaging community leaders, as respected elders, to shift perceptions, and encourage use of available health care services.
  • Training community health workers to partner with us and deliver information and services.
  • Reaching newlyweds on or before their wedding with information about family planning and reproductive health.
  • Using digital platforms to reach adolescents and youth.

In Bangladesh, through our Shukhi Jibon program, we’ve trained more than 5,000 community health workers to deliver information, referrals, and services for postpartum family planning in their communities.

Egypt: Encouraging women’s engagement and leadership in the private sector

Facilitation during the explanation of the contraceptive pill. Awareness sessions for families – a session for women. Photo: Pathfinder Egypt

Pathfinder’s Women’s Economic and Social Empowerment Program is incentivizing private sector companies to recruit and retain women and adopt and implement policies to reduce unsafe work conditions. Focal areas include policies, procedures, and trainings related to recruitment​, gender pay gap, promotions, maternity and childcare, and sexual harassment.

As part of this effort, Pathfinder supports private sector companies to adopt one of two models to enhance their overall gender performance:

  • The Women’s Empowerment Principles: ​Seven principles, developed by the UN Global Compact and UN Women, offering guidance on promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment in the workplace, marketplace, and community. ​
  • The Egyptian Gender Equity Seal​: A certification awarded to Egyptian private sector companies that have met certain requirements in gender equity. It is a voluntary certification program that provides a framework for businesses to assess and improve their policies and practices related to gender equality, focusing on four performance areas.

The program is targeting sectors with high female participation, including textiles, agribusiness, and retail, and planning to work with the companies to develop gender action plans that improve the ability to recruit and retain women employees. So far, 10 companies have been onboarded and are in the process of adopting one of the two models or both.​

India: Social entrepreneurs and digital innovations reach young couples

YUVAA workers in India. Photo: Sarah Peck

In 10 districts of India’s Bihar and Maharashtra states, our Youth Voices for Agency and Access (YUVAA) program combined social entrepreneurship and innovative digital communications approaches to improve access to contraceptive choices and encourage gender-equitable relationships. The program engaged young couples as social entrepreneurs who reached other young couples in their homes to lead discussions about family planning and open the door to more positive gender and social norms. They sold contraceptives and other health products.

The young social entrepreneurs also used digital platforms to deliver communications. This included tele-counseling, interactive games, behavior modeling short films, interactive virtual reality tools, and even mobile ‘talking’ projections.  

YUVAA reached more than 837,000 young people.

Jordan: Supporting the healthy development and agency of adolescent girls

Every deserves the support she needs to grow, develop, and thrive in a healthy way and have agency over the decisions in her life. We adapted our Act With Her program from Ethiopia to meet the needs of young adolescent Jordanians and refugees.

In Jordan, we partner with adolescent girls to lay the health, education, economic, and social foundations that they need to thrive and navigate healthy, happy, and productive transitions to adulthood. ​This includes joining boys and girls, ages 10-14, in empowerment clubs, led by young adult mentors who host group discussions that provide them with a range of knowledge and life skills related to puberty and menstruation, health, nutrition, education, in-person and digital communication, safety and bullying, gender, community voluntarism, and economic empowerment.​ Although it’s a girl-centered program, we directly include adolescent boys to create peer allies and help foster gender equality in the next generation. ​ ​

By engaging parents and caregivers, we also seek to encourage positive gender and social norms to be adopted in their families and communities. Engaging adolescents, young adults, and parents and caregivers simultaneously means we effect change for and through three generations at once.  So far, more than 3,100 adolescent girls and boys completed all 38 group discussions, and 1,700 parents attended the series of group sessions.

Pakistan: Women-led climate and health resilience

Woman carrying a water pot on her head in Tharparkar Sindh, Pakistan. Photo Credit: Skycopter Films

Pakistan is one of the ten countries most affected by climate change and extreme weather events. Last September, the worst floods in Pakistan’s history left more than 6 million in need of humanitarian assistance, and, each year, women in regions like Tharparker endure prolonged droughts and heat that compromise their health and leave their children vulnerable to malnutrition.

Our I am Resilient, I am Change (Dharti Ammar) project engaged farming families in Tharparker, including women, in discussions about the harms of early and childhood marriage, family planning and reproductive health, and climate-adaptive practices with potential to improve food security. Through the project, women established sustainable kitchen gardens, and planted vegetables and fruit trees.

The project has demonstrated that farming families can work as agents of change in their communities. Families engaged through the project are now mobilizing their friends and neighbors in discussions about health care and making referrals for sexual and reproductive health care and other essential services. Men are now sending their wives to lady health workers for family planning counseling, and many have accepted their spouses’ use of any contraceptive method, including long-acting reversible methods that are often most effective and convenient for women who live far from health facilities.

We continue to reach women in Tharparker through another program that intends to support 700,000 people in Pakistan and Bangladesh with integrated health and climate change solutions over the next three years.

To support women on this International Women’s Day and every day thereafter, we must continue to support family planning access, but go far beyond it. We must take intersectional approaches to address the most pressing issues and needs in the communities we serve and deliver the greatest impact under our mission. This means building in activities focused women’s empowerment, gender equality, and climate resilience. Partnering with women is crucial to delivering solutions that address the most pressing issues of our time.  

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