Empowering women through education and access
Every week, hundreds of women visit the Hassina madrassa in Afghanistan’s Balkh province for free lessons in Islamic guiding principles and philosophy. To the surprise of many outsiders, it’s also where women come to learn about family planning and other health issues. This diverse curriculum is part of a wider programme working with religious leaders run by Marie Stopes International Afghanistan (MSIA) under the bold leadership of Mrs. Batul Mahadiyar.
Mrs. Batul knows all too well the social and cultural challenges facing her work. Afghanistan can be a conservative country when it comes to sexual and reproductive health and rights—though Balkh province is more progressive than many. In addition, Afghanistan has high maternal and child mortality rates—one of the highest in the world. National contraceptive prevalence (CPR) stands at a mere 22%.
We train them to understand and know how to practise birth spacing. We do not act as doctors but advise them about their health care options.
These challenges make Mrs. Batul’s work that much harder—to change the trajectory for women and families in her province, especially poor women. Revered in her local community as an advocate for equality and girls’ and women’s education, Mrs. Batul is driven by her belief that women and men have the right to know about their reproductive health needs and options.
“It is our aim to improve the awareness and social and economic position of women,” says Mrs. Batul. “We train them to understand and know how to practise birth spacing. We do not act as doctors but advise them about their health care options.”
Although the madrassa provides reproductive health education, it does not directly provide products or services. Once women learn about their options, Mrs. Batul then works with their husbands and families to support their decision, sometimes with the help of a male Islamic scholar. She connects them with MSIA which provides more detailed counselling and services. For example, MSIA uses a mobile van to reach women at community level, providing reproductive health services and a range of family planning methods.
Increasing access to family planning information and services in a culturally appropriate and sustainable way requires partnership with religious leaders, government ministries and the development community. But most importantly, it requires dedicated leaders like Mrs. Batul to lead the charge.
The availability of safe, affordable supplies that meet men’s and women’s RH needs. Supply availability is possible only when products feed into the supply chain and make their way to the point-of-distribution, where women and men can access them.