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Grassroots: Voices, Stories of Women in the Developing World

October 19, 2012

Yesterday, in her blog post Wanted: New Champions for Family Planning, Vicky Markham shared her thoughts on the excitement of seeing family planning back on the global agenda and how critical the voices of women in the developing world are to the family planning conversation and movement.  Today, Markham continues the conversation. What do you think?

Joining the global leaders and individual countries as family planning champions, we must take this opportunity to also focus on another form of “new champion”: the developing nation women at the local level. The new family planning development movement must have locally-based developing nation women farmers, homemakers, water and wood collectors, tree planters and village organizers at our helm - them driving leaders in the developed world, and these leaders listening to them.

Musimbi Kanyoro of the Global Fund for Women said that we need to be authentic to the people we represent – the women on the ground.  They are living the challenges, and many have solutions – we need to seek them out, give them the capacity to reach us with their messages about family planning, farming, healthcare, education, economic opportunities, and to lift them up, provide for them in locally appropriate manner, so they are supported in these efforts.”   At the heart of this is changing the way people think about reproductive health and family planning.  It is shifts in attitude or perspectives that make people change.  Most of all we need to make the connections from grassroots movements to the spaces of power, to advocate for women’s rights.

Reproductive Health: Central to Development

Personal stories from leaders of Botswana, Ethiopia, Finland, Norway and other countries, told at an event to honor the book “Why We Care”,  relayed how important reproductive health is to development overall. Ethiopian Minister of Health, Thedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus discussed political, social and economic empowerment  as most compelling argument for family planning at the village level, helping women and their families better able to farm, grow vegetables, create income generation.  He said these are all increasingly motivating factors for limiting family size. 

He went on to note that talking to women themselves, in private, was key.  In Ethiopia they have 38,000 extension workers (imagine the networking possibilities, the replicating possibilities!) going house to house to build women’s empowerment, using private communication in women’s houses on everything from politics, small-scale economics, education, farming, to reproductive health, all as one effective means to also reach women about their family planning desires and needs. 

It may seem like old hat to those who have worked in women’s health and development for a long time but for the broader world stage, it’s what is finally capturing countries’, donors, multilaterals, and NGOs attention, and all the more reason for us to take this new movement seriously.

This year has offered immense inspiration from events featuring leaders focused on improving the health and lives of women in the poorest parts of the world. And they are setting the scene for more of what we really want and need for success:  more involvement, decision making, and power, to women on the ground in sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, South Pacific, those who are living the challenges on a daily basis, and have their own stories and solutions to relay.  

It’s stories from women throughout the Global South we need to hear more of, so we can scale up their locally-appropriate solutions, and have them inform our international deliberations in service to saving the lives of women.

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