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Workshop for African Women Leaders
Posted February 24, 2012
By Eva Cantrell, CEDPA

Image of Ruth Musila, participant at HPP workshop for African women leaders

Photo: Beatrice Rwakimari is one of 24 participants in a workshop to strengthen African women leaders' participation in defining country priorities for family planning and reproductive health. Photo by CEDPA
In a village 350 km away from Kampala, a 16-year-old girl was in labor. Like many young Ugandan girls from poverty-stricken families, she had been forced into an early marriage and was expecting her first child.

As a teenage girl, she was not physically or emotionally prepared to give birth. When she went into labor, her mother-in law did what most rural residents do and rushed her to a traditional birth attendant in the village. Even if the girl had wanted her to give birth at a health clinic, the family did not have money or the transportation to take her to the nearest facility, which was over 20 km away.

During childbirth, the teenager had complications. The traditional birth attendant shrugged them off. She had delivered hundreds of babies in that village. Why would this one be any different? After two days in labor, the girl died.

There are many interventions that could have saved the life of the girl from the village. There could have been incentives in place to ensure she waited to marry. She could have been educated on reproductive health and family planning. The traditional birth attendant could have been trained to recognize early danger signs. Transportation could have been made available to take her to the health facility.

This is one of hundreds of tragic stories from her community that compelled Beatrice Rwakimari to run for parliament more than a decade ago.

“The main reason I wanted to join parliament was to help the women in my community,” said Beatrice. “When I went to parliament in 2001, reproductive health and maternal health were my passion.”

Understanding how simple interventions could save lives, Beatrice campaigned hard to ensure policies were implemented to save the lives of women and girls in her community and throughout Uganda.

“The biggest challenge was the insensitivity of the executive about reproductive health. Most male ministers were not as passionate about reproductive health as we women were,” explain Beatrice. “They would say, ‘That’s not our priority.’ Their focus was on roads or production of electricity.”

Though Beatrice helped to raise the priority level of reproductive health in Uganda during her time in office, the need for expanded access to services remained.

Beatrice has since retired from parliament and founded ARISE, a non-governmental organization that advocates for the needs of women and girls in her community. She is one of 24 participants in a USAID-funded workshop this month in Nairobi, Kenya, to strengthen women’s participation in defining country priorities for family planning and reproductive health in Africa. The three-week workshop has convened women leaders from Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi and Uganda to build their skills in leadership and advocacy.

The Women Leaders for Family Planning and Reproductive Health workshop is an activity of the Health Policy Project, led by Futures Group. CEDPA, one of the partners on the project, is conducting the workshop, which covers skills building in leadership and mentorship; advocacy; governance and accountability; gender and social inclusion; and networking. Upon returning to their own countries, workshop participants will ensure that women’s voices are prominent in defining national and regional priorities for family planning and reproductive health.

“As a leader of ARISE, this workshop comes at a critical time,” explains Beatrice. “The information I am gaining here is enormous and will help shape the strategic plan of my organization to better serve my community.”


Cross-posted from CEDPA website

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Related Story: African Women Leaders Add their Voices to Development

Read about Health Policy Project gender programs

 
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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, 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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