The 56th Commission on the Status of Women, held in New York from 27 February to 9 March 2012, takes on the challenge of empowering rural women and acknowledging their crucial role in the eradication of hunger and poverty. The Commission is the principal policy-making body dedicated exclusively to gender equality and the advancement of women worldwide.
On 29 February, from 4:30 to 6:00 p.m. at the Church Center for the UN (777 UN Plaza) in New York, a panel will discuss ways to support the reproductive health issues of rural women, focusing on projects in Uganda, in Papua New Guinea and through the Campaign to End Fistula.
For women who live in remote rural areas, limited transportation options make it difficult to access a skilled health care provider during pregnancy and labour, or to get emergency care when childbirth complications arise. Roads and transportation are often rudimentary, and hospitals and health centres are spread over wide distances.
“From some rural villages, it can literally take days for a woman to get to a hospital that can perform an emergency Caesarean section, and by then it is often too late to save the baby or prevent a serious birth injury such as obstetric fistula. Tragically, all too often, the mother dies as well,” explains Gillian Slinger, Technical Specialist for Obstetric Fistula and UNFPA Coordinator of the global Campaign to End Fistula.
For Ms. Slinger, the women and girls living in rural areas are not only the most difficult to reach, but also the hardest hit by poverty: “They are usually the least educated and have less decisional power. Even in countries where national legislation guarantees women’s rights, those are more difficult to be enforced the farther you go from the capital. It is also not easy to challenge cultural traditions which can further perpetuate inequities and gender issues."
Women in a rural village in Northern Mozambique attend a meeting where information is shared by peer educators. Joint UNFPA/UNESCO program on sexual and reproductive health.
UNFPA has supported alternative transportation and m-health projects, crucial initiatives to enhance maternal health in rural areas. It also promotes incentives to get more doctors and midwives working in rural areas.
But for women from remote regions, innovative projects with maternity waiting homes are making the difference between life and death for the mother and the baby. “If complications arise, the woman can have specialized care in a health center. That’s vital for any pregnant woman, and especially in the future pregnancies of former fistula patients. For them, these facilities help to make sure they get an elective C-section, thus preventing a fistula recurrence, and ensuring well-being and moreover survival of mother and baby in subsequent pregnancies.”
Photos: Benedicte Desrus/Sipa Press (top) and Etienne Franca, UNFPA.