Initiating Change

Ananke's Rameeza Duggal celebrates International Women's Day 2017 by showcasing International Women's Initiative's array of efforts to alleviate the plight of women.
Image Credit: International Women's Initiative

‘The achievement of full human potential and of sustainable development is not possible if one half of humanity continues to be denied its full human rights and opportunities. Women and girls must enjoy equal access to quality education, economic resources and political participation as well as equal opportunities with men and boys for employment, leadership and decision-making at all levels.’ UN 

The United Nations has identified ‘gender equality’ as a crucial part of 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Despite enormous progress in the fields of technology, education, health, and politics, the world is lagging behind in achieving gender equality in all sectors.

Women’s representation in politics, education, and labor market remain significantly low. According to the UN statistics (2015), worldwide women earn 24 percent less than men, with the highest inequalities found in sub- Saharan Africa (30 percent) and South Asia (33 percent). Girls remain the most disadvantaged in education in the same nations.

However, the world has gradually started to realize the importance of gender equality. These facts and figures are horrendous, but they are far better if compared with the previous decades.

These triggers of change can be attributed to individuals and organizations taking a stand on behalf of women. One such entity is the International Women’s Initiative (IWI), which has greatly contributed to the cause of women.

Stirred and motivated by the plight of Ugandan women due to conflict, Aubrey Shayler formed International Women’s Initiative (IWI) in 2012. The IWI was founded with a vision to see women as protagonists of their own lives. The organization is spiritedly working on raising awareness about the threats to the human rights of women around the world, promoting and assisting in the attainment of gender equality.

Currently, the organization is engaged in five projects; namely, Safe Birthing program, the Human Project, Tech Humanity, Audio Roar, and Women Rise Up.

The IWI’s flagship project Safe Birthing program (SBP) was launched in fall of 2016 in Amolatar District of Northern Uganda. The maternal mortality in Uganda is as high as 438 deaths per 100,000 live births, with a massive under five mortality rate of 90 deaths per 1000 live births (UNICEF). The IWI believes that the state of maternal health is an important indicator of health inequalities within a nation, and stagnation in progress is a violation of women’s rights.

The SBP offers a low-cost, high-impact solution in achieving Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) Three, aiming to reduce the global maternal mortality ratio; and SDG Five, promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment through universal access to sexual and reproductive health care services (UN).

In SBP, the IWI provide birthing kits to health facilities in Northern Uganda that struggle to ensure that a woman’s right to reproductive healthcare is protected and fulfilled. In the first phase of the program, the organization distributes birthing kits to Etam, Namasale, and Apute health centers.

The IWI’s flagship project Safe Birthing program (SBP) was launched in fall of 2016 in Amolatar District of Northern Uganda. The maternal mortality in Uganda is as high as 438 deaths per 100,000 live births, with a massive under five mortality rate of 90 deaths per 1000 live births (UNICEF). The IWI believes that the state of maternal health is an important indicator of health inequalities within a nation, and stagnation in progress is a violation of women’s rights.

Caitlin Hass, the coordinator for the Safe Birthing program illustrated the reason behind choosing Amolatar district: “The Amolatar district has one of the highest maternal mortality rates within Uganda. Its MMR (Morbid Maternity Ratio) amounts to 600 maternal deaths per every 100,000 live births, a number which is way above the national average. Although the need for reproductive health services is dire throughout all of sub-Saharan Africa, we choose to start our work in the Amolatar District given these staggering statistics’.

Although the Ugandan Ministry of Health delivers the kits to all health centers, it is unable to meet the full needs. The ‘Maama’ kits provided by the Ministry of Health only covers for 50% of expectant mothers delivering at the healthcare facilities.

According to IWI: “What frequently happens is that a facility receives just 50 percent of the supplies they need. The IWI is meeting this need with their distributions in Aputi, Etam and Namasale. The birthing kit contains basic clean delivery materials such as 500g of cotton wool, one piece of baby soap, two razor blades, two polythene sheet (two meters by half meter), and two pieces of gauze, three surgical gloves, immunization card, and a cord. The International Women’s Initiative has partnered with the Birthing Kit Foundation of Australia to provide the birthing kits.”

“However, lack of basic materials to assist childbirth remains one of the major impediments in further decreasing the maternal mortality ratio in Uganda. In the second phase of our program, we are planning to expand to all 13 health centers,” said Caitlin Hass.

IWI’s other initiative, The Human Project was launched to highlight all forms of human trafficking affecting women and children, and to expose the methods of recruitment targeting these groups. Every year, thousands of women and children fall prey to human trafficking in their own countries or abroad. However, the actual magnitude of the crime is still unknown.

According to a ‘Global Report on Trafficking in Persons’ by United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC 2009), “the most common form of human trafficking (79 percent) is sexual exploitation. The victims of sexual exploitation are predominantly women and girls. Surprisingly, in 30 percent of the countries, which provided information on the gender of traffickers, women make up the largest proportion of traffickers. In some parts of the world, women trafficking women is the norm.”

The Human Project aims to generate regional and country reports featuring basic facts about human trafficking. Factsheets include: demographics of the potential victim and the traffickers; political, economic and social driving factors in the region; trafficking patterns and methods of recruitment; as well as background of the crime in a specific area. The project’s primary goal is to raise awareness about the pandemic of trafficking and guide the potential victims with preventive/preemptive measures.

The IWI uses advanced tools, for instance, social, print and electronic media to bring attention to the violations of women’s human rights. One of their projects, Women Rise Up, publishes news, editorials, and research papers to support the women rights cause. Further, a recently launched project, Audio Roar is a podcast, giving voice to women issues, ranging from unsafe abortions to forced virginity tests and unequal pays. Moreover, the IWI is currently organizing a comedy night on March 17th, 2017, titled Stand Up For IWI, in London.

According to IWI, “Eminent female comedians from all over the country will perform in it. The purpose of the event is to support IWI’s efforts to spread awareness about women issues, especially about their flagship project the Safe Birthing Program.”

Many NGOs take initiatives for the protection of women trapped in unfortunate circumstances in regions of conflict and struggle. However, there are only a few that truly address the root causes; penetrating the systems of injustice and cruelty. Ananke applauds and celebrates the efforts and hard work of International Women’s Initiative that strives to highlight and protect different aspects of women’s safety through awareness, research and active groundwork.


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