Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Half the Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity for Women

October 01, 2012

Edna Adan views the map of her country, the internationally unrecognized but functionally independent Somaliland, as a “war map” that she uses to identify locations to “fight the enemy: disease, death.” The soldiers of Edna’s army are the young women she is training as community midwives. Edna’s goal is to train 1,000 of them, and she has created a program to do so at her maternity hospital in Hargeisa.

I had the opportunity to meet Edna and some of the midwives she’s trained while working on the documentary series Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, which premieres tonight on PBS at 9pm/8pm CT. The film, which is inspired by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s best-selling book of the same name, follows Kristof and six actress-activists — America Ferrera, Diane Lane, Eva Mendes, Meg Ryan, Gabrielle Union and Olivia Wilde — to meet Edna and other heroes like her who are doing extraordinary work to overcome the some of the toughest challenges facing women and girls around the world.

Edna’s program is exactly the type of low-cost (only $50 a week per midwife trainee) high-impact solution that must be enacted in order to make significant progress on the maternal and infant death rate in the developing world. Within her hospital, Edna has already cut the maternal mortality rate to one-quarter of the national average.

Placing community midwives throughout Somaliland, where most births are either unattended, or attended only by a traditional birth attendant with no formal training, will have a huge positive impact on maternal and child health.

Edna’s midwives also carry the message of the benefits of child spacing, and the harmful impact of female genital cutting — a near-universal practice in Somaliland — on a woman’s reproductive health, out into their communities, far more effectively than any outsider ever could.

For the midwives themselves, the training they receive at the hospital is an educational opportunity and, after they graduate, an economic opportunity that would have been well beyond their reach if Edna’s program did not exist.

Our crew was there when one class of midwives completed their training and sat for their final exams. After learning they had passed the exam, the group of young women ran outside and joyfully embraced each other. In that moment, they embodied the hope and the knowledge that their country, which has experienced so much violence and desolation, is moving toward a brighter future.

Please tune in tonight and tomorrow night to Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide on PBS at 9pm/8pm CT to see more stories of women like Edna who are changing the fates of girls and women everywhere.

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