How hard can it be to persuade men in power that women deserve health care and a voice? Over a delicious morning tea overlooking Sydney Harbour, three speakers took us behind the lines, into women’s predicaments in PNG, Afghan and Sierra Leone. They talked of their experiences and the paths to the future – education for women is key; family planning liberates women; and women are transformative.
Caroline Homer, Professor of Midwifery at UTS, spoke of her work in PNG encouraging women to come to give birth in community centres where they are trying to provide a midwife and community workers and provide a range of family planning and other health services. Facilities and attitudes to women’s health and needs have been severely missing or misguided that education is needed.
Our speaker from Afghanistan spoke about the barriers to education and family planning. ‘Afghan women are extremely controlled by culture, tradition and religion; there is no real sense for women’s empowerment in Afghanistan. Gender inequalities give more power to men as gatekeepers not allowing women out of the home.’ She said that Islam itself is not against family planning but misinterpretation of Islamic rules by opposition from religious and community leaders is a big issue and it is risky in most areas of Afghanistan for women to promote family planning. Since 2002, girls have been taught to read, write and then train as midwives and now more than 4,000 midwives have been trained to help women in rural areas of Afghanistan.
Aminata Conteh was kidnapped by rebels in Sierra Leone and held as a sex slave and human shield for five months. She came as a refugee to Australia and is now an Ambassador for UNHCR. Aminata is developing a program for her country in which women can come to centres and access pregnancy, medical, nutritional and other services in a trusted environment. The opportunity to access power to charge mobile phones is the clever way she is overcoming male resistance to the service.