Save the Mothers’ Program Intern 2016-17 Jess Huston visited the Luweero District in Uganda, and sat in on this meeting, where these women were learning to become economically independent.
International Women’s Day is March 8th. People around the world celebrate this day in different ways—marches, conferences, public forums, dinners, extra hugs, or even just a thank you or feeling of solidarity with the other women in one’s life. However, in some parts of the world, this day may not be as known, celebrated, or even welcomed. Worldwide, women are struggling and suffering for their rights—and their lives.
This is not to say that the movements in many high-income countries are not necessary, needed, or working. Indeed, by empowering any woman, we can feel motivated—and able—to empower all others.
Canada versus Uganda
In Canada, women usually have the choice whether to have children, and when. Pregnant women typically have resources available to them so their delivery is planned, supported and safe. If complications arise, they are often discovered early enough that plans can be put in motion to assist with any difficulties during pregnancy and delivery.
Here in Uganda, this is not the case. Roughly the same number of women who die during childbirth or from pregnancy-related causes each year in Canada die every day in Uganda. Every. Single. Day. With one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world, and the risk of countless other morbidities developing during delivery, being pregnant here can be one of the most dangerous things a woman does.
The contrast is stark, and it is clear which geographic location is better off on the maternal health front. Sometimes this separation can be hard to grasp. We might think it is a problem “over there,” an issue too great to effect change, or for anyone to solve. Of course, there is no simple solution. However, there are teams and networks working hard to better maternal health in Uganda and in many other East African countries, changing the game for mothers and newborns. So how can women in Canada find solidarity with women in Uganda, on this day or any other? How can the empowerment of a woman anywhere help women everywhere? Here are a few ideas of where to start:
Build your own community
Surround yourself with strong women and celebrate them. Start a discussion group, prayer network, book club, walking group, anything to bring you and other strong women together. Support other women when they accomplish great things—and seek inspiration for yourself to continue to do the same.
Participating in a Save the Mothers’ “Steps to Deliver Change” Mother’s Day Walk (on Mother’s Day weekend) or suggesting your book club read The Game Changers by Save the Mother’s founder, Dr. Jean Chamberlain Froese, can deepen your community and simultaneously benefit the Ugandan women Save the Mothers serves.
Celebrate women worldwide
Sometimes when we speak about strong, inspirational women, we focus on those immediately around us, from the same backgrounds, and with stories similar to our own. Many incredible leaders throughout the world and its history have been and are women. While celebrating the success of women around us is important, I invite you to learn more about those around the world who have made a difference.
Bring men into the conversation
A gender divide does nothing for equity and forward change. In the Save the Mothers Masters of Public Health Leadership program, we actively seek and encourage men to join the program. Male involvement is important in both the program, and in the daily lives of mothers and mothers-to-be in Uganda. So important, health facilities track the statistics of the number of men who attend antenatal appointments with their wives, or who are present at delivery. Women accompanied by men receive prioritized care ahead of women without men present.
When men are included, maternal health is no longer just a woman’s issue, but a societal one. In Uganda, seeing maternal health as a societal issue encourages greater financial investment in women’s healthcare and delivery, increases recognition of the importance of family, and reduces gender-based violence within households. Engaging men globally in women’s issues brings equality even further—the more voices the better! When all parties are engaged and working for better maternal health, mothers and babies are in good hands.
Listen and learn; then educate
We know that education is key for the progression of societies worldwide, and that girls are often left out of schooling for a variety of reasons—early pregnancy, menstruation, unaffordable school fees, and home care to name a few. When we recognize that women and girls need and deserve education as much as anyone, our societies are strengthened, from the family to the workforce. Education is key, so we encourage you to learn more about the issues affecting mothers around the world. The Save the Mothers’ website is a great place to start. When we see the issue of maternal mortality as a personal one, it becomes easier to act, and to push for change to save the mothers and their babies.
During the 2015 Canadian election, “A higher proportion of women than men cast a ballot,” showcasing the female population as a powerful political force. While we don’t have a say in elections where these maternal deaths occur, your voice can make a difference in the way your own government supports maternal health initiatives worldwide. Maternal health was one of the Millennium Development Goals to ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all. In the new mandate of Sustainable Development Goals, there are goals to reduce the rates of maternal mortality, neonatal deaths and early/unintended pregnancies worldwide. One fairly simple way you can keep these goals in focus is to write/email/call your Member of Parliament or government and encourage them to keep maternal health in the conversations and budgets. Your voice is strong and can make a difference in determining which projects are funded! Find your Canadian MP here. Find your U.S. Senator here.
Save the Mothers’ Master of Public Health Leadership program is a multidisciplinary approach, based on the truth that maternal health is not simply a medical issue. Our students come from non-medical backgrounds and are able to take their knowledge to their own spheres of influence to create societal change. Similarly, Save the Mothers’ volunteers come from various backgrounds, each bringing their own skills to the table. Contact us to see how your unique talents might fit into this organization, or start your own fundraiser for the cause!
With that in mind, consider applying to the Save the Mothers Internship! This is an incredible opportunity to experience, witness and take part in the changes that are being made to better maternal health here in Uganda. You will work alongside both women and men in the Master of Public Health Leadership program and the community to better maternal health from all areas of life, from media to law, politics to teaching, and everything in between.
Applications are due May 15th, 2017. Details can be found here.
How and where you spend your money says a lot about the causes that are important to you, whether you buy fair-trade products or purchase goods from companies and organizations that align with the causes and missions that you care about. Every time you spend money, you cast a vote for the world you inhabit. By making a donation to Save the Mothers, you are emphasizing that mothers around the world are important and valued, and that women, and their children, are worth saving.
When a mother dies, entire communities are affected. Similarly we all benefit from strong, successful, and game-changing women. This International Women’s Day, we celebrate those women, all over the world, as we continue to work to ensure that every mother has the chance to be one.