7th September 2018 by Ben Greeves
In her sixth blog of this series, Kate Flanagan introduces us to the women of Msunjilile. The strength and determination of these women is clear to see, and something we really admire.
As a company, InterComm has extensive experience in the field of women’s health. We believe it is a very important area that needs to be addressed. It is also a good example of where clear, targeted education and messaging can help improve worldwide knowledge and understanding of some very personal issues.
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From my arrival in Msunjilile, I continually admired the ferocious strength of the women who lived there. As the primary caregivers who cooked, washed and cleaned for their families, women were at the forefront of water, sanitation and hygiene issues within their local community. It was therefore essential that they received information on topics from water purification to menstrual hygiene management, to most widely alter relevant behavioural patterns.
The village itself had notable female figureheads in the form of Mama Agness, the headmistress of Msunjilile Primary School, and Isabelle, the Village Executive Officer. To have female leaders in Msunjilile, who were both essential to the success of our project, was a welcome sight in a world where such a concept is still surprising.
One of the strongest women I met was younger than me at just 18 years old. She was my homestay Dada (sister) and lived within my homestay courtyard. Named Happy, she helped my Mama to cook, clean and wash dishes and clothes.
During my stay, I had the honour of being present for the birth of Happy’s first child. On the evening that Happy went into labour, nine female village elders welcomed me and my roommates into Happy’s house, where we sat for hours in the main living space, absorbing the warm and surprisingly calm atmosphere of anticipation. We attempted to speak to the women in broken Swahili and the local tribal language, Gogo. After a flurry of activity we were invited into the dark bedroom where Happy lay on layers of empty cement sacs and fabrics. The female village midwife delivered the baby with the light of one single torch and the umbilical cord was tied with small strips ripped off the very cement sacs we had been sitting on throughout the evening. Her newborn baby girl was swaddled in layers of colourful fabrics as I stood there, emotional and amazed.
At the birth of Happy’s child there was no electricity, no doctor and no running water. The whole birth luckily progressed without any complications; a relief as the nearest hospital was a forty-five minute drive away. Such a journey by the main method of travel, piki piki (motorbike), would have been impossible for a woman in the late stages of labour.
This is the usual situation for women living in such communities. Inadequate access to water, sanitation, hygiene and healthcare contributes to the shocking fact that, according to ICS, 1,000 women die every day from causes related to pregnancy and childbirth. It has been found that 99% of all maternal deaths occur in developing countries, many of which are likely to experience similar issues to those we saw in Msunjilile. These statistics are heartbreakingly unfair and preventable. With high quality and accessible female (and maternal) healthcare, mortality rates could be vastly reduced.
Despite living in a progressive society with female leadership, the women of Msunjilile still face significant constraints. Such issues of women’s health, that I have personally witnessed, are echoed across the world. We must not stop speaking, writing, marching and campaigning until all women everywhere have equal access to healthcare, education, employment and opportunity. The injustice must come to an end.