Women have been called the weaker sex. Feminists and women rights activists find this statement ludicrous; they say we live in a patriarchal world. This is not about Africa; it is a global issue.
The notion of equal strength that “what a man can do, a woman can also do” (“even better” later complemented the notion), must have been the initial response to the weaker sex statement.
Women started to bring proofs to substantiate the notion of equal strength, and it seemed that the proofs came according to class. The educated class claims that they can reach any position a man can. They clamour for parity in domestic affairs and equal rights and representation in politics and governance.
The uneducated class, especially in the rural areas, encourages their pregnant ones to deliver by themselves, in their houses, many a time with no one present.
While gender parity or political equality is a fair and genuine cause, trying to make super heroes out of pregnant women is a complete threat to two lives – the pregnant woman’s and the newborn’s, who is struggling to break through into this world.
The woman may die of labour complications of which the commonest is severe bleeding. The situation is even more dangerous when no one is present.
Even in the movies, the super heroes get their moment of vulnerability, where they need help from the people they are helping, to achieve the glory they seek. What, I can’t make reference to the movies? Didn’t Aristotle yield that art imitates life?
When our own super hero pregnant woman falls into labour, and she is in her own moment of vulnerability, she gets no saving grace.
This is a moment she must convince her family, especially her mother-in-law, that she’s strong. And if you were a man who took his wife to the hospital when she fell into labour, then you must be weak in your head. I mean, what kind of man marries a weak woman? Your mom would ask you that!
This is how it goes on in cultural, familial and rural setting. The amount of information on pregnancy and childbirth has not eroded this tradition.
In the urban setting, many pregnant women can access healthcare facilities where trained nurses and midwives still expect the woman in labour to be strong. They tell her to shut up and push, after all, “When you were doing it, you were enjoying it and you were not shouting like this.” Classic.
The urban pregnant woman who uses the healthcare facility gets neglected, abused, traumatised. Many of them die or lose their newborns in the process, and no action is taken.
The rural pregnant woman who uses the healthcare centre has no midwife to attend to her. The midwives have left because they’re not paid, they don’t have habitable houses, they don’t have security and electricity, and they don’t have necessary equipment to help pregnant women.
Most healthcare centres are not safe for pregnant women and their newborns. They lack essential life-saving drugs and functional blood banks. Pregnant women die in labour because of an essential drug that costs less than 1,000 naira.
My friend, Chinomso, who has been working all her life to ensure that pregnant women and newborn survive, was abused in an Abuja hospital when she was in labour.
So, what more?
There’s more. I have learned that complain without action only leads to frustration.
This is why, at MamaYe, after we’ve discovered and awarded champions, heroes and heroines – men and women, students and traditional leaders, policy makers and civil servants, anybody, who go out of their way to take any action that helps pregnant women and newborns survive, we are now creating more of such people – champions, heroes and heroines for maternal and newborn survival.
The only difference, this time, is that we call them MamaYe Super Activists. The Super Activists will train others who are called Activists.
Let me clear this a bit: in MamaYe’s parlance, Super Activists are folks who have something in them that pushes them to act, while Activists are those who become excited and interested in joining forces with the Super ones.
I love the idea that we are going to have a lot of them across the 5 States in Nigeria where we work – Bauchi, Gombe, Lagos, Nasarawa and Niger.
The chart below explains better, the number of people that would be carrying out advocacy efforts to help reduce the rate of maternal and newborn mortality in those States, and in Nigeria as a whole.
They will be challenging the forces around poor services at healthcare centres, donating and encouraging people to donate blood for the benefit of pregnant women in labour, ensuring that blood banks are functional, interacting with the government to ensure availability of midwives, accommodation for midwives, security, electricity, potable water, clean healthcare facilities, anything that will ensure that pregnant women survive childbirth.
We have trained 30 Super Activists in Bauchi in a Training of Trainers session. The training has been stepped down to 30 Activists. We now have 60 “challengers” at the moment!
Are you super-excited about all this? Do you want to join us and change the way we test the strength of pregnant women from ignorance to evidence-based approach? Click here to see the actions you can take, or simply email us to share your ideas.