Health Policy Project

The Health Policy Project has ended, but work continues under a new USAID five-year project, Health Policy Plus (HP+).


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Building a Drumbeat from the Ground Up
Participants at a women's leadership workshop in 2014
Health Policy Project

Posted March 8, 2015

By Anne Jorgensen, Health Policy Project Team Leader and Senior Technical Advisor, Leadership and Capacity Development, Plan International USA

This International Women’s Day I’m celebrating from 40,000 feet—en route to Malawi, Kenya, and Uganda. For a decade my colleagues and I have been working to help women around the world elevate their voices; to strengthen the skills and confidence they need to advocate for effective family planning and reproductive health (FP/RH) policies in their countries. For nearly five years, this work has continued through the USAID-supported Health Policy Project (HPP) through Plan International USA.

Now, as the project is coming to a close, Sue Richiedei1 and I head out for a round of final workshops with these amazing women. Women who initially spent close to a month with us developing their skills as policy champions; who shared their stories—both intimate and inspiring; and who have since supported one another in meeting their potential, and in continuing their advocacy to improve the FP/RH policy environment in their respective countries.

Their stories of personal growth inspire us. Women like Cissy who, after attending one of the workshops, was asked by her organization’s director to temporarily step into a leadership position. Initially wary of taking on such a role, she recalled thinking, “Cissy, these are big shoes. You cannot fit in them.” Her sisters-in-arms rallied around her and reminded her of their leadership training. It worked. Cissy reflected back on the workshop, and said to herself, “Cissy, you can make it. You are a woman leader.” She is now her organization’s country health specialist—having competed with external candidates for the position—and oversees all health-related programs for her organization, including health advocacy. Six months after the workshop, Cissy claimed, “The confidence I got from this workshop has enabled me to be what I am today.”

Participants at the 2014 Women’s Leadership in Family Planning and Reproductive Health Workshop in Nairobi, Kenya. 

Since 2012, women leaders from Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Tanzania, and Uganda have participated in HPP’s women’s leadership and advocacy workshops, coaching program, small grants, and networking events. And while their home countries and the positions they occupy are diverse, there are at least two things the women share: a commitment to improving access to FP/RH services and a passion for increasing women’s participation in the decision-making processes that shape FP/RH policies. 

In the face of high maternal and infant mortality, women’s participation in crafting responsive and effective FP/RH policies is vital for the health and development of these six countries. But it will take work. In the words of one of our earliest program participants, we need to “build a drumbeat from the ground up.” By developing their skills, creating networks of committed advocates for change, and strengthening women’s leadership, that is exactly what this group of women is doing. Their work is inspiring and crucial, and an example to advocates everywhere—regardless of issue or cause.    

So today Sue and I fly to meet them, hear their stories, celebrate their successes, learn from their challenges, and plan ways to continue developing women policy champions for FP/RH. I, for one, can think of no better way to spend International Women’s Day. 

1) Sue Richiedei is the Senior Director of Leadership and Capacity Development at Plan International USA, a partner in the USAID-supported Health Policy Project, a project of Futures Group

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The Health Policy Project is a five-year cooperative agreement funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development under Agreement No. AID-OAA-A-10-00067, beginning September 30, 2010. The project's HIV-related activities are supported by the U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). It is implemented by Futures Group, in collaboration with Plan International USA, Avenir Health (previously Futures Institute), Partners in Population and Development, Africa Regional Office (PPD ARO), Population Reference Bureau (PRB), RTI International, and White Ribbon Alliance for Safe Motherhood (WRA). The information provided on this Web site is not official U.S. Government information and does not represent the views or positions of the U.S. Agency for International Development or the U.S. Government.

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