USAID Impact Photo Credit: USAID and Partners

Archives for Women

Malian Midwife Champions Respectful Care for Pregnant Women and their Families

During the month of May, IMPACT will be highlighting USAID’s work in Global Health. From May 11-17, we will be featuring the important role of mothers and partnerships in Global Health.

The man brings his pregnant wife into the health center and is confronted by the irritated midwife who raises her voice: “I’m too busy, what do you want? Go outside, this is no place for a man!” Later, the man returns for news about his wife’s condition and is promptly told to “go back and sit there.”

This role play session about abuse and disrespect in maternity care was part of a training in Burkina Faso sponsored by MCHIP. Through role play, MCHIP trainers demonstrated to doctors and midwives what not to do when attending to their patients, as disrespectful treatment of pregnant women and their families is all too common in health facilities around the world. This is especially true in developing countries, where doctors and midwives often lack basic infrastructure, supplies, manpower, or even awareness about patients’ rights to be treated with dignity during birth.

Pregnant woman with companion at the renovated maternity ward in Bobo Dioulasso, Burkina Faso. Photo credit: USAID

Training participant Haoua Ba had never heard about respectful care until this MCHIP training, even after 22 years as a midwife in Mali. Haoua and about 30 other midwives, pediatricians and obstetricians are known as Africa “Champions” (or advocates) for improving maternal and newborn health by promoting up-to-date knowledge, practices and attitudes in their countries and region. Mali is one of 10 key African countries—along with Benin, Guinea, Kenya, Liberia, Madagascar, Senegal, South Sudan, Uganda and Zambia—where the MCHIP Africa Champions Program is being implemented over two years (2011-2013).

MCHIP maternal and newborn health trainings have always emphasized “women friendly care,” for example by introducing skills checklists with which providers are evaluated on their ability to provide respectful care. However, given the prevalence of disrespect and abuse—in Africa in particular—and the lack of knowledge about this issue, Africa Champion trainers developed an entire training module devoted to this topic. In this 1.5 hour session, a facilitator helps training participants understand during group discussion that there is evidence that key components of respectful care, such as involving a woman in her care, will make the birth experience go more smoothly for both the woman and the health care provider.

Haoua described how this training session taught her to respect pregnant women and their families by greeting them politely and continually informing them in a soothing voice about everything she is doing. And since the training last year, Haoua has seen a big difference after putting into practice these new skills.

“When you show respect, it really facilitates things,” she said. “If you calmly tell the woman what to do and explain things her, it comforts her. And word gets around so women know who is going to treat them well and they request that midwife when they come into the hospital.”

After participating in three Africa Champions maternal and newborn health trainings on innovative, lifesaving practices, Haoua is uniquely positioned to transfer these lessons learned. She plans to do so with both staff and student interns at the busy Referral Health Center in Bamako, Mali, where she also works as a midwife with 22 other midwives and three gynecologists. In fact, one of her primary goals as a Champion is to help strengthen the health center team by promoting evidence-based care. She described how she and one of the doctors will organize trainings about twice a month on a particular theme and have attendees practice on mannequins under their supervision to ensure they are correctly using their newly acquired skills and knowledge.

Importantly, Haoua has taught her colleagues that a woman should be allowed to have a companion by her side during the birth, which is a central tenant of respectful care. Having a loved one present provides women with essential comfort and support during the birth process, especially when the health center staff are busy or overworked. Evidence supports this practice as one that can help to shorten labor and increase normal outcomes.

A pregnant woman who must give birth without the company of a loved one or who must lie on the floor because there are not enough tables, without the privacy of a curtain, is not receiving respectful care. But even in the worst conditions, said Haoua, “if you have the will to do things well, you can help women.”

She is a perfect example of how the USAID-funded Africa Champions program is helping to prevent the untold suffering of women during one of the most vulnerable but extraordinary times in their lives.

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The Power of Mobile to Improve Women’s Health

During the month of May, IMPACT will be highlighting USAID’s work in Global Health. From May 1-10, we will be featuring the role that Science, Technology & Innovation plays in Global Health.

Last month, I had the chance to visit a clinic in Nigeria just outside of the Federal Capital Territory where approximately 70 pregnant women were waiting to receive prenatal care. Being a big fan of impromptu focus groups, I asked the women to raise their hands if they had a cell phone. Hands shot up around the outdoor meeting space, many of them proudly clutching mobiles phones of all shapes, sizes and varieties. This was an exciting moment for me, a clear representation of just how ubiquitous mobile technology has become in low-income countries. The GSM Association estimates that the mobile penetration rate in developing countries is now 89%.

There is no doubt that the pervasiveness of mobile technology has made possible innovative new ways to deliver health information and services. mHealth projects throughout  the world are harnessing the power of mobile to do everything from registering births to supporting health workers to raising awareness about disease prevention (and a great deal in between!). Mobile phones have also become valuable tools for empowering women: more than 1 billion women have access to a mobile phone in developing countries, and 9 out of 10 women who use mobile phones say they feel safer and more connected with friends and family.

With a mobile phone, this mother has access to health information and services. Photo credit: VillageReach

Women, as mothers and health workers, are commonly the beneficiaries of mHealth projects. But even as we acknowledge the potential power of mobile phones to improve their health and wellbeing, it’s important to recognize that they are rarely equal participants in the development of these interventions or the policies that govern access and use.

I believe firmly that mHealth projects, especially those related to reproductive, maternal, newborn and child health, must take into account social, cultural and gender norms in order to produce improved health outcomes. This belief led me to work with my colleague, Madhu Deshmukh, who is seconded to the mHealth Alliance from CARE – a leader in the movement to promote the empowerment of women and girls – to develop a Gender Analytical Framework (PDF). Through this framework, mHealth implementers can better understand the nuances and implications of gender issues, and then design or modify their projects accordingly.

When developing the framework, we interviewed a number of organizations working on mHealth projects, including VillageReach, one of our grantees bringing a toll-free maternal health hotline to scale in Malawi. What VillageReach told us is that they have experienced first-hand the challenges of taking gender into account when designing mHealth programs, for instance when they realized men were calling into the service on behalf of their families. By creating this framework, the mHealth Alliance is providing mHealth implementers like VillageReach with a powerful tool that will help ensure women and men not only have access to mobile technology but that it is being harnessed in a way that truly benefits the health of pregnant women and their families, as well as the male and female health workers that serve them.

Returning to my unofficial Nigerian focus group, my second question to the women was how many had used their phone to obtain some sort of health information. Remarkably about half of the hands went up. When I probed, many shared that they used their phones to either call a family member or a health worker to seek advice about their pregnancy, though it wasn’t necessarily through a formal service.

In Nigeria, the government has recognized this power of mobile phones to empower citizens, health workers, and the health system through the Saving One Million Lives initiative.  They have also highlighted equity and gender, specifically, as key to ensuring that the full potential of mobile is realized to reach targets for significant reductions in maternal and child deaths and improvement in health and wellbeing.

As more services to provide access to health information are implemented by programs such as VillageReach and the Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action (MAMA), I fully anticipate that more women will be empowered to better care for themselves and their children. On my next visit to Nigeria, I hope to see the number of raised hands rise dramatically, due in no small part to mHealth implementers and designers applying a gender lens to their work.

Follow USAID for Global Health (@USAIDGH) on Twitter and use #GHMatters to join in the conversation.

Technologies to Keep Mothers Safe

During the month of May, IMPACT will be highlighting USAID’s work in Global Health. From May 1-10, we will be featuring the role that Science, Technology & Innovation plays in Global Health.

This Sunday—Mother’s Day in the United States—will be a day of light hearts and laughter for many. At PATH, we’re dedicated to developing simple, affordable technology to make sure becoming a mother is a time of joy the world over.

Elizabeth Abu-Haydar, right, with a mother in a prenatal clinic in Rajasthan, India. Photo Credit: PATH/Noah Perin

In some parts of the world—notably sub-Saharan Africa—childbirth remains an extremely dangerous time in a woman’s life. Some 300,000 women worldwide die each year just before or after delivery. Excessive obstetric bleeding— postpartum hemorrhage—causes 1 in 4 of these deaths. And mothers who survive aren’t out of danger. Those who live through severe postpartum hemorrhage are significantly more likely than other mothers to die within a year’s time, leaving their babies and families alone.

Elizabeth Abu-Haydar, public health specialist with our Technology Solutions program, looks for ways technology can make childbirth safer. On May 28, she’ll be presenting her work at Women Deliver, an international conference focused on improving the health and well-being of girls and women. To celebrate Mother’s Day, we asked Elizabeth about some of the technologies that hold promise for making childbirth safer.

What will you talk about at Women Deliver?

I’m going to highlight some of the technologies we’re working on to fill a gap that occurs when women experience severe postpartum hemorrhage. There’s a clear protocol that’s followed when a woman starts bleeding after delivery: She’s given medication and her abdomen is massaged, and in 62 percent of the cases, that works to stop the bleeding. But in those other roughly 40 percent of cases, the woman could potentially continue bleeding, and if she’s bleeding severely, even a healthy woman can die within two hours. Most of these women are not as healthy as they could be, and the biggest problem is that many of them are anemic.

Why does anemia make the problem worse?

These women have low iron stores, and the body during pregnancy requires more iron. If a woman starts bleeding and she doesn’t have iron stores, she’s likely to go into heart failure and shock much more rapidly than a woman who is healthy. In sub-Saharan Africa, where 40 to 50 percent of the women are anemic, that’s a huge problem.

What can we do about it?

We’ve been testing a device that makes it very easy to assess whether a woman is iron deficient or not. We call it a noninvasive anemia screening device. The device measures iron levels using a clip that attaches to the woman’s finger. Ideally, you would use it every time she comes in for her prenatal visit. If there’s a problem, you can start treatment and monitoring. The screening doesn’t require blood, it gives a reading in less than a minute, it doesn’t hurt, and it’s visual, so that it becomes a way to talk about iron with the woman. Plus, there are no sharps and no waste and no resupply issues either, which is a big, big deal.

What do you do to stop the bleeding once it starts?

One option is the balloon tamponade. It’s basically tubing attached to a vessel, such as a condom, that is inflated by pumping water into it. It’s inserted into the uterus and filled until it stops the bleeding. It is very effective and it’s very affordable.

Another option is the antishock garment, which looks a bit like a tight wetsuit. Its main purpose is to reverse shock. If a woman has bled profusely and her organs are shutting down, she starts going into shock. That’s when the antishock garment gets wrapped around her in a sequential manner starting from her legs up so that the blood is pushed to her vital organs. You can combine the antishock garment with the balloon tamponade. It’s a beautiful combination!

You sound very motivated—even though developing technologies is a long haul. What keeps you going?

You know, I was in Kenya in August, visiting 13 clinics that were run by midwives—not fancy, these were serving the slums of Nairobi. We talked about the balloon tamponade, and a couple of midwives had used it. They talk about the woman who came in to give birth, and they really thought she was going to die, and there was no way she was going to make it to the hospital, and somebody said, “Why don’t we use this balloon thing they were telling us about?” And they try it. And the woman survives. And she comes back a week later with her baby. That inspires me. That’s very exciting, I think.

Additional Resources

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The Promise of MPTs: An Integrated Approach to Women’s Health

During the month of May, IMPACT will be highlighting USAID’s work in Global Health. From May 1-10, we will be featuring the role that Science, Technology & Innovation plays in Global Health.

In recent years, the global community has intensified its focus on women’s health and rights. This reflects a universal recognition that women and girls are fundamental to the health and well-being of societies worldwide — and that we still have significant challenges to overcome before reaching essential development goals.

HIV and maternal mortaility, and their frequent intersection, are  among the greatest obstacles to women’s health and development. Together, they consisitute the two leading causes of death among women of reproductive age.

A woman holding a ring. Photo Credit: USAID

Women are disproportionately affected by HIV/AIDS due to a combination of biology, gender inequality and sociocultural norms. In sub-Saharan Africa, the epicenter of the AIDS epidemic, young women are twice as likely to become infected with HIV as young men.

At the same time, a lack of access to modern contraceptives in developing countries remains a major contributor to global maternal deaths. An estimated 222 million women worldwide want to delay or avoid pregnancy but aren’t using a modern method of family planning. Contraceptives allow women to space and limit their pregnancies,  leading to better health, education and economic outcomes for women and families.

Women in areas with high rates of HIV often have the greatest unmet need for contraception. New multipurpose prevention technologies (MPTs) now being developed address these dual risks, and may give women tools they can use to protect their health and better their lives.

While existing MPTs such as male and female condoms are extremely effective when they can be used, many women cannot negotiate condom use. New MPTs in development — including vaginal gels, long-acting rings and new types of barrier devices — could expand options for discreet, female-initiated prevention methods. In addition, because women’s perceived risk of HIV is low compared to their perceived risk for pregnancy, and given potential stigma around receiving HIV services, combined technologies may be widely used. As such, new MPTs may also help promote increased integration in health care delivery.

With leadership and support from USAID, the International Partnership for Microbicides is applying its experience in HIV prevention to the development of a 60-day MPT vaginal ring that would offer protection against HIV and unintended pregnancy. Now in preclinical stages, the ring would deliver an antiretroviral drug called dapivirine along with the hormonal contraceptive levonorgestrel. Clinical studies are planned for 2014.

The contraceptive field has long taught us that no single product will address women’s unique needs and preferences. While some women may prefer to use a gel around the time of sex, others may find that a longer-acting ring is more convenient and encourages consistent use. USAID is working on a number of new technologies to expand contraceptive options for women and couples across the globe. Learn more about these new contraceptives and multipurpose prevention technologies under development in this slideshow.

While at least several years away, new integrated solutions like these could result in significant health gains for women by reducing rates of HIV transmission, STIs, and maternal and newborn death associated with unintended pregnancies. As a result, MPTs could help advance progress on multiple development goals related to health, poverty and gender equality — and give women and girls a chance to reach their full potential.

Follow USAID for Global Health (@USAIDGH) on Twitter and use #GHMatters to join in the conversation.

Embracing Innovation and Discovery to Accelerate Global Health Progress

Ariel Pablos-Mendez, PhD, serves as assistant administrator for Global Health

During the month of May, IMPACT will be highlighting USAID’s work in Global Health. From May 1-10, we will be featuring the role that Science, Technology & Innovation plays in Global Health.

Improving women’s and children’s health is critical to the development of successful economies and stable communities. It not only saves lives, but it helps communities move themselves out of poverty. Yet every year, 6.9 million children die of preventable causes and more than 287,000 women die from complications of pregnancy and childbirth.

In his State of the Union Address earlier this year, President Obama set forth a vision to, within the next two decades, achieve some of the greatest contributions to human progress in history– eliminate extreme poverty, ensure an AIDS-free generation, and end preventable child and maternal deaths.

To many, these goals seem impossible. They seem like nothing more than a catchy statement, in a political speech. But in reality, these goals are achievable, and we’ve already begun to see tremendous progress.   For example, we’ve supported the scale up of a simplified newborn resuscitation program, “Helping Babies Breathe” through a public-private partnership. The partnership has trained and equipped 100,000 health providers in 50 countries in the last two years. This past year, USAID reached more than 84 million women with family planning information and services. By enabling women to delay and space pregnancy, this helped to prevent 15,000 maternal deaths and save the lives of more than 230,000 infants. These are just a couple examples of the recent advancements we’ve made.

But while we have tools and knowledge that can save and improve lives today, we must also look toward the future. Millions around the globe still do not have adequate access to reproductive, maternal and child health services. There is no guarantee that today’s tools will meet tomorrow’s challenges. We must not become complacent.

USAID and the broader global health community invest in innovation, science & technology to find game-changing solutions. Solutions that will help accelerate the goal of ending preventable child and maternal deaths, and creating an AIDS-free generation.

Through the Grand Challenges for Development, Development Innovation Ventures, and the Higher Education Solutions Network, USAID is helping to drive breakthroughs in science and technology that can transform development challenges. Recently, we launched the Center for Accelerating Innovation and Impact in Global Health to help promote and discover innovative, business-minded approaches to address key bottlenecks in the development, introduction and scale-up of global health technologies and interventions.

And since 2011, Saving Lives at Birth has supported 39 exciting and potentially transformational solutions to women’s and newborns’ health. The innovative ideas include an instrument-free, low-cost, rapid point-of-care CD4 test; a postpartum intrauterine device simulation training model; a counterfeit and substandard drug detector device for use in the developing world; and a low-cost, sustainable health cooperative.

At USAID, we are committed to finding innovative solutions to global health  problems (PDF) and if the global health community can harness science, technology and innovation for the poorest communities in the world, we can leave an unparalleled legacy in global health in this next decade. Over the next few days, we will be blogging about some of the latest cutting-edge solutions that are changing the global health arena. By working together to discover and build new solutions, we can maximize our impact and expand what is possible in development.

Follow USAID for Global Health (@USAIDGH) on Twitter and use #GHMatters to join in the conversation.

Light Above Darkness – The Global Struggle for Democracy & Human Rights

Sarah Mendelson serves as deputy assistant administrator for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance

Two years ago at the Community of Democracies (CD) in Vilnius, Aung San Suu Kyi appeared via video message, addressing former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, foreign ministers, presidents, and human rights activists from under house arrest in Burma. While she wasn’t physically present, her grace and strength were felt even from thousands of miles away. I remember she said she was “full of hope and full of anticipation for what the not too distant future will bring us.”

Those were telling words. This week, in Ulaanbaatar, at the seventh ministerial of the CD, Aung San Suu Kyi once again addressed the audience – this time in person. Back straight, regal, and elegant with flowers adorning her hair, Dau Suu said she never lost faith that humans “desire light above darkness.” She walked among the other dignitaries and yet always stood apart. As one official noted, she seemed like “the next Mandela.” Her moral force reminded all of us that we have a duty to remember those who do not live free and to work tirelessly to ensure that one day they can.

Dau Suu’s remarks were followed by Tawakkol Karman, a brave young Yemeni woman who won the Nobel Prize for her non-violent struggle for the safety of women and women’s rights in peacebuilding work in Yemen. Her emotional appeal to “stop the killing in Syria and the killing of Muslims in Burma” was blunt, forceful, and a sharp contrast to the more diplomatic speeches that such gatherings inevitably generate.

Deputy Secretary Burns delivered a powerful message from President Obama about generating the “new technologies and tools for activism.” It is our hope that the information technology revolution means we will continue to open governments and transform the global struggle for democracy and human rights. For innovation not only makes hiding corruption even harder, it can help governments listen and respond to their citizens.

And we are already seeing results. One of the most interesting and informative presentations was from an Indonesian leader proudly showing how her government is using technology to empower citizens to hold governments accountable in ways that even the world’s oldest, most established, democracies would do well to replicate. Mongolian officials, our hosts, were talking of transparency, open societies, shared lessons on democratic transition and cooperation with emerging democracies.

At USAID, we are embracing this virtuous cycle through Making All Voices Count, the Open Government Partnership, and by supporting game-changing innovations from governments, partners, organizations, and change agents around the world. We believe these efforts will help new democracies deliver to their citizens, empower civil society activists, and challenge authoritarians everywhere. We have seen a lot of progress since the last CD in 2011 but we have also seen a backlash in many places. Governments attempt to rule by laws designed to close space around civil society and activists. While many of us have hope that such efforts do not have a bright future in the hyper-connected 21st century, we met many activists that live daily with security services trailing and jailing them. I must remind myself that change is possible and hope that when I see them at the next CD, their lives are transformed by freedom.

Half the Sky: Building a Movement Through Media & Technology

I remember reading Betty Harragan’s Games Mother Never Taught You when it first came out over thirty years ago. As a woman entrepreneur, that book had a huge impact on me—both in how to navigate at work, a new universe that felt like I had been dropped onto Mars, and how I saw myself as an agent of change.

This was long before cell phones, the Internet, and mobile readers exponentially increased people’s access to information around the world. Today, USAID is working to make sure a whole new generation of women (and men) are exposed to life changing stories and media that have a positive impact for them, but also their families, communities, and countries.

USAID joins Half the Sky, the Ford Foundation, Show of Force, and Games for Change to launch the Half the Sky Movement Media & Technology Engagement Initiative, an integrated media campaign to create behavior change toward gender issues in India and Kenya. Photo credit: Half the Sky

That’s why I’m thrilled that USAID is a part of a new alliance, along with the Ford Foundation, Show of Force, and Games for Change, called the Half the Sky Movement Media and Technology Engagement Initiative. This new alliance builds on an initiative developed with Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, authors of another incredibly inspiring book, Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide.

If you have not yet read Half the Sky, it shares powerful stories of women who have lived through horrendous but also horrendously commonplace experiences of forced prostitution, maternal mortality, devastating injuries in childbirth, abuse, and extreme forms of discrimination. Yet it makes an equally powerful argument that women can be, should be, and are agents who transform the world for the better.

At USAID, we know that gender equality and empowerment not only advance our development goals, they’re essential to their long-term success. No community or country can realize its full potential without women and girls having the freedom to be all that they can be. However, in many low- and moderate-income countries, women and girls continue to struggle for equal access to healthcare, education, the justice system, and professional opportunities.

In India, one of two key focal countries of the initiative, there is strong evidence of continued son preference. Girls are underrepresented in births and overrepresented in child deaths. Today, the literacy rate for females is barely 50% and men are twice as likely to be employed. India is home to 40% of the world’s people living in extreme poverty—think about how this problem could be eradicated if girls and women were educated.

In Kenya, the second key focal country of the initiative, a 2008 study shows very low female representation in post-primary education, formal employment, enterprise ownership, and political decision-making processes. Kenya is placed well to be a part of the Africa renaissance, but will only succeed if it embraces the power of its girls.

Over the next two years, together with Nick, Sheryl and our partners, we will work to inspire and create lasting change for women and girls in India and Kenya through an integrated media campaign. The campaign will use a combination of traditional and social media, a powerful approach for shifting gender-related norms and behavior.

To get an idea of the kind of messages and approaches the initiative will implement, I encourage you to check out videos released as part of previous collaborations between USAID and Half the Sky Movement partners. One of my favorites is the story of Pooja, who gains her family’s support to defy convention and continue her education. If this young girl can be brave enough to forge a new path, it is the least we can do to support others in following her lead to become part of the movement.

Non-hormonal Methods of Contraception Meet Need in DRC

More than 26 percent of married women in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) want to avoid pregnancy but aren’t using a modern method of family planning. Furthermore, meeting this demand for family planning is not an easy task in the DRC, where deep-seated traditional and religious views exist around family size, gender roles and the use of contraception.

USAID programs have worked to meet the needs of women in the DRC by expanding access to a wide range of family planning choices from short term to long acting reversible contraceptives and permanent methods. USAID has also identified the need to increase access to non-hormonal methods to increase options for women and couples. Since 2003, USAID and its partners have worked to incorporate fertility awareness-based methods into the DRC context, in particular, the Standard Days Method “SDM” (PDF), developed by the Institute for Reproductive Health with funding from USAID. Using SDM, women track their menstrual cycles with CycleBeads in order to avoid unprotected intercourse during their fertile days and by doing so can prevent pregnancy. Based on World Health Organization analyses (PDF), with perfect use, the SDM is effective 95% of the time, and 88% of the time with average use.

Christopher Hook with members of Maman An’Sar. Photo credit: USAID

CycleBeads have a particularly strong acceptance in the DRC’s religious communities. I recently visited the capital city of Kinshasa and was lucky enough to attend a community training of young women on use of CycleBeads. A local Catholic organization, La Conduite de la Fecondité, conducts these trainings twice per week in thirteen integrated maternal and child health clinics all across Kinshasa. It was a moving experience for me as a development professional (even though I did not speak a word of Lingale!). The training incorporated singing, dancing and call-and-response, which created a fun atmosphere where learning could happen.

Later that day I also met with representatives from Maman An’Sar, a Muslim organization who advocates to local Imams to incorporate family planning messages (PDF) into their weekly sermons. Following a sermon, Maman sends out teams of community health workers who follow up with individuals and couples from the congregations to talk about what they heard. Faith-based organizations like Maman and religious leaders have significant potential to influence positive behavior change within communities and disseminate reproductive health messages.

The use of CycleBeads continues to grow in the DRC. Today, SDM has been scaled-up in 278 of 515 health zones, and CycleBeads are available in more than 1800 sites with trained providers ready to assist potential users. Moreover, SDM has been included in all Ministry of Health norms and protocol documents, ensuring long-term host government support of fertility awareness-based contraception as a key component of the contraceptive method mix.

Access to family planning information and services is only one health challenge in the DRC, but it’s an important one. The DRC has one of the highest rates of child mortality in the world, and enabling couples to determine whether, when and how often to have children is vital to safe motherhood and child survival. Research has shown improving access to family planning and reproductive health services could prevent up to 40 percent of maternal deaths across the world, and save the lives of 1.6 million children (PDF) under the age of five annually. Increasing access not only to hormonal methods of family planning, but also to fertility awareness methods is one way in which USAID and its partners are seeking to meet unmet need in the DRC and across the world.

If you or someone else you know may be interested in using the SDM, please follow this link for the web-based service, and this for the iCycleBead smartphone app.

Educate Girls, Develop Nations

This blog is part of a series focused on USAID’s innovative approach to reaching Millennium Development Goal #2: Achieve universal primary education. The theme “Room to Learn” highlights programs and priority countries where access to education is now a reality.

As President Obama said, if a country is educating its girls, if women have equal rights, that country is going to move forward. Education is a silver bullet for empowering women and girls worldwide.

When girls are educated, their families are healthier, they have fewer children, they wed later, and they have more opportunities to generate income. One extra year of primary school boosts a girl’s future wage 10 to 20 percent and an extra year of secondary school increases that earning potential by 15 to 25 percent. Education also helps moms take better care of their kids.  According to the World Bank (PDF), each additional year of female education reduces child mortality by 18 per thousand births.

A young female student in Alma Village, southern Ethiopia. Photo credit: Susan Liebold

These are amazing statistics but I’ve also been fortunate enough to see for myself the high returns to investing in education. While in Kabul I met with an incredible group of young women who were educated entirely in post-Taliban Afghanistan. They reminded me how critically important education is to peace, prosperity and empowerment.

Those young women represent the future for a country that had virtually no girls in school less than 15 years ago.

Today, Afghan girls are more than a third of the students. I am proud that USAID is supporting community-based schools in Afghanistan and that our literacy effort is playing an instrumental role in ensuring these girls get an education; it is an investment that will pay dividends for generations to come.

Globally, enormous progress has been made in closing the gender gap in primary education over the last 20 years. In most of the world today, a similar percentage of girls and boys attend primary schools. Yet disparities endure—there are 3.6 million more girls out of school compared to boys around the world. Women still comprise the majority (two-thirds) of the illiterate. In Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, obtaining an education remains particularly tough for women and girls. The World Bank estimates that half of the out-of-school girls in the world live in Sub-Saharan Africa and one quarter of them live in South Asia.

But it’s not just about access. Compounding the problem is a lack of quality education. For example, in Malawi robust primary school enrollment and matriculation rates are reported. However, a closer inspection of the educational system reveals that many students finish their schooling without being able to read. Therefore, a focus on both the quality of education and enrollment rates is needed.

We know that educating women and girls has tremendous multiplying effects for families, communities, and societies.  That is why USAID launched five leadership partnerships involving universities in the U.S. and in Armenia, Paraguay, Rwanda and South Sudan to promote gender equality and women’s leadership. These programs will promote and develop curricula and opportunities for women in business, agriculture, and education in order to increase women’s access to higher education and advanced degrees, strengthen institutional capacity in research and education on women’s leadership, and promote women’s leadership through higher education extension and outreach to underserved communities.

We are very excited to be collaborating with academic institutions in the United States and abroad to advance women’s leadership. These partnerships offer a meaningful and important opportunity to ensure women are empowered, ultimately advancing economies and societies globally.

Mapping Lebanon

This year’s Women’s History Month theme is “Women Inspiring Innovation Through Imagination: Celebrating Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics”. In observance, USAID is spotlighting innovative women working in these fields. Below is an interview with Grace Abou-Jaoude Estephan, Assistant Professor in Civil Engineering at the Lebanese American University.

Your work entails putting together a hazard map of Lebanon for earthquake-induced landslides. Why is this work important?

Grace Abou-Jaoude Estephan, Assistant Professor in Civil Engineering at the Lebanese American University. Photo credit: Grace Abou-Jaoude

Lebanon is a country that is located in a relatively active seismic zone. Its rugged topography makes it vulnerable to earthquake and landslide hazards. Astonishingly, records from 303AD describe the destruction of houses, cities, and monuments. Although Lebanon has not experienced any major earthquake since 1956, the recent discovery of an active thrusting fault close to its coastline has significantly raised its risk of being hit by a high magnitude earthquake. Unfortunately, no effort has been done to assess the impact of a seismic event on the risks of triggering landslide hazards in the country.

The goal of my project is to produce an earthquake-induced landslide hazard map of Lebanon that clearly shows the critical areas prone to earthquake-induced landslides. The map will be used as a reference for anyone concerned with public safety, urban planning, and disaster management.

Describe your own career path – how did you first get involved in science? What obstacles did you face along the way?

Science and math were the main topics that interested me during my school years. There was one particular female math teacher who highly influenced my interest in mathematics through her teaching style and devotion to her mission. I knew I wanted to become a civil engineer help design and construct the amazing structures I’d long admired.

After receiving my Bachelor’s in Civil Engineering (with distinction) from the American University of Beirut in 2001, I worked at one of the largest consulting companies in Lebanon. I found myself eager to learn more about design, construction, and geology. I pursued my graduate studies in geotechnical engineering at Purdue University in Lafayette, Indiana in 2002, where I obtained an M.S. and Ph.D in Civil Engineering from there in 2003 and 2006, respectively.

I returned to Lebanon in 2007 and took a faculty position at the Lebanese American University (LAU), in Byblos, where I have been an assistant professor since 2007. Today, I’m a registered member of the Order of Engineers in Lebanon, an associate member of the American Society of Civil Engineering, and a member of the International Society of Soil Mechanics and Geotechnical Engineering.

Why do you think it is important for women across the world to be involved in science?

Women across the world have a great potential to excel in science and there are many examples of the contributions females have made to science throughout history. Women have surely faced many obstacles and barriers along the way, but that never discouraged the female achievers from reaching their goals. I believe it is very important to maintain constant support and provide encouragement to female students interested in pursuing careers in science and engineering.

Cultural expectations and social restrictions on women, combined with outdated stereotypes of women’s roles and abilities, often dissuade girls from considering careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics as professional options. Challenges of combining responsibilities for a household and family with a professional career also present a major constraint. Women who keep challenging these long-held stereotypes by holding careers in fields of science and technology are vital to encourage the new generation of female students to be involved in fields of science and engineering.

 

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