Health and gender equality strengthened in 5 countries22 February 2022
We’re removing barriers to quality health services girls and young women face in Bangladesh, Ghana, Haiti, Nigeria and Senegal to reduce maternal and child mortality.
Barriers to health services, particularly for vulnerable girls and women, increase rates of maternal and child mortality.
“Coming to the hospital is a real ordeal,” says Ellette, a mother from Haiti. “We are discouraged, as are the doctors. They are doing their best, but the lack of equipment is obvious.”
Negative stereotypes prevent girls’ access to health
The barriers faced by girls and women are not just related to a lack of access to quality care and equipment. Negative gender stereotypes also play a restrictive role.
“I actually thought there was nothing wrong with denying adolescent girls contraceptives. I thought I was helping them to be good girls,” says a health care worker.
“As soon as the doctor knows you’re not married he can have prejudices against you and change his behavior and not receive you in the same fashion as a married woman,” says a girl from Nigeria.
In response, Plan International, with support from the Canadian Government, launched a 5-year project to reduce maternal and child mortality and remove barriers to health for vulnerable girls and women. The project, called Strengthening Health Outcomes for Women and Children, is implemented in remote areas of Bangladesh, Ghana, Haiti, Nigeria and Senegal.
Health care improved by removing barriers
The project improves access to life-saving health care by promoting good practices around maternal and newborn health, and sexual and reproductive health in communities.
It also involves working alongside health providers to improve their facilities, the skills of their staff and their delivery of services. The goal of this work is to ensure health services meet the specific needs of girls and women, offer quality, respectful and responsive care which respect their dignity, rights and decision-making power as well as promotes men’s positive engagement.
Strengthening the links between communities and the services through referrals, transport and community health committees is also key.
To tackle the negative gender stereotypes which restrict girls’ and women’s access to health services, the project supports girls and women to make informed decisions about their health.
Education on maternal and newborn health, and sexual and reproductive health, the establishment of support groups and training so they can participate in local health committees all increase girls’ and women’s decision-making power.
“I never thought my voice could make a difference in my community,” says Fatima, a member of a health committee in Nigeria. “I was able to suggest what activity we should include in the work plan and it was accepted. I feel empowered now.”
An adolescent girl from Bangladesh says, “My community did not know about adolescent rights. The project training changed my life. Now I am working to inspire others.”
Engaging men is another critical aspect of the project so they support girls and women to access health services and support their decision-making ability on their heath and bodies.
One man from Sokoto, Nigeria says he now takes pride in caring for his wife. “Even going to hospital, if she is to see the doctor, I usually accompany her myself. I want people in the community to learn from me.”
Increased care for mothers and babies
As a result of the project, the number of women receiving both antenatal and postnatal care increased in all 5 countries. In Ghana, the proportion of women receiving 4 or more sessions of antenatal care increased from 67% to 83% and the proportion of women receiving postnatal care within 2 days of childbirth increased from 56% to 73%.
“I now see women who are going to deliver their babies at a health facility. This is a big change,” says Hafsatu, who helped deliver the project in Ghana.
“The change in thinking about gender will last for years, especially for adolescent girls,” says
Dr. Pierre Despagne from a local implementing partner in Haiti.
When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, the project adapted rapidly to support government responses in each country. Awareness was raised among 700,000 community members on how to prevent the spread of the virus, along with the distribution of sanitation materials. The project also supported health providers to continue delivering essential services while preventing the spread of COVID-19 and provided them with personal protective equipment.
Early childhood development, Sexual and reproductive health and rights, Maternal health, Sexual and reproductive health services