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Imagine a World...Where All Women Can Demand Their Rights

September 20, 2012

Today marks the launch of a program to bring family planning to every corner of Uganda. Today, in Kasangati, Uganda, Marie Stopes Uganda and our partner the Uganda Health Marketing Group will showcase the Accelerating the Rise in Contraceptive Prevalence in Uganda programme, a USAID and UKAID funded initiative which aims to make this happen. This is great news for women in our country, news which has given me cause to reflect on what it will mean for women, the work we still need to do, and the role I will play.

When I think of the women I have met in my 5 years working in for Marie Stopes Uganda, I think most of the women in deep rural areas, the women with very high fertility rates and very little access to contraception. They are the ones most in need. I think of the women who come to us after having more children than they wanted – sometimes three or four more than they hoped.

Yet even as family planning arrives where they live, and the ability to control their own fertility is at their finger tips, culture and community pressure demands that they return to ask their husband’s permission.

Husbands may say no, or demand that they get consent from their mother in law as well. Families may demand that she continue producing for them – after all, they need to recoup the expense of the cows paid as a bride price! Even worse, a woman may come forward for family planning and find herself rebuffed by a health worker that doesn’t respect her right to make her own health choices.

At the same time, I’ve seen amazing courage and progress. Community sensitizations, and engaging respected thought leaders in communities, have begun to change people’s opinions about who decides whether a woman can delay or prevent her next pregnancy.

Women are starting to demand their rights to have a family they can support, and these rights need to be demanded both from their families and from the health workers there to serve them.

In my role as a trainer, I ensure that every member of our team knows that these choices are women’s to make, and that they are entitled to our respect and support.

Our responsibilities at Marie Stopes Uganda in this respect are huge: we deliver over 27 percent of Uganda’s modern family planning through our outreach programme, and this year alone 130 public health workers and 600 private health providers have passed through our training programmes, which teach them to deliver long acting and permanent methods of contraception.

So it’s very likely that if a woman in Uganda comes forward for family planning, Marie Stopes Uganda team members or providers trained by us will be involved in her care. It’s because of this that passing on our values – which place women’s rights at the centre – to each and every Marie Stopes Uganda team member, and each and every provider we train is so crucial.

I dream of the day when every Ugandan woman has the power and courage to walk into her home or into a health facility and demand what is rightfully hers. Until then, we have work to do.


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