< This episode of Inspire Africa is produced in partnership with the Sahel Women's Empowerment and Demographic Dividend (SWEDD) >
On this episode of Inspire Africa, we discuss "Women's health at the heart of development in the Sahel".
First in Ivory Coast with the SWEDD centers of excellence and safe spaces. Then in Burkina Faso and Mali where men in husbands' and future husbands' groups are being sensitized to women’s sexual and reproductive health issues.
Also, we hear from Professor Stanley Okolo, Director-General of the West African Health Organization. And we found out what the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), key initiator of the SWEDD project, is doing in the Sahel to help women benefit from sexual and reproductive health services.
Host Jerry Fisayo-Bambi introduced the story of SWEDD center of excellence and safe spaces set up in parts of Ivory Coast.
The SWEDD Safe spaces are school and community-based centers for girls and young women where they are taught life skills, reproductive health, gender and human rights. They are also offered literacy and vocational training, and support for economic initiatives, including financial management.
This empowerment according to SWEDD not only protect beneficiaries from child marriage and harmful traditional practices, but also enable them to influence those around them on matters concerning their lives and their future.
In Ivory Coast, at least 934 safe spaces in schools have helped keep nearly 20,000 girls in school which can help reduce their risk of early marriage.
Burkina Faso- Husband and Future Husband clubs
In Burkina Faso, attitudes to women and girls sexual and reproductive health issues are changing. Though women are at the heart of this, men in groups called the husband clubs and future husband clubs are also being involved.
Facilitators in the clubs offer lessons to men in a 'gender transformation program', thereby reducing violence against women, improving involvement of husbands in the promotion of reproductive health/family planning and reproductive health rights. The lessons offered also help couples living together improve and become more united to achieving their goals.
At least 1,735 husbands were certified for participation in the sessions and commitment as agents of change, and 275 women and 170 men have already received their credits for the first placement for implementation of income-generating activities (IGAs) in support of their entrepreneurial initiatives. IGAs contribute to increasing the economic women's and households' economic power and access to RH/FP services, all of which contribute to their empowerment. The clubs have also been set up in Ivory Coast, Mali,and Niger.
Mali- Getting out-of-school girls back to school
In Mali, the accelerated girls' schooling strategy implemented by the SWEDD-Mali project in partnership with the Ministry of National Education is helping to bring girls back to school.
The teaching program of the Accelerated Schooling Strategy called Passerelle (SSA/P), is a condensed version of the programs of the first three (3) years of primary school (C.I., C.P.2, C.E.1) and aims at the end of a nine (9) months accelerated teaching (2 months in the mother tongues and 7 months in French, the language of instruction) to integrate or reintegrate learners into the system at the level of the 4th or 3rd grade of elementary school.
As a reminder, in 2016, Mali had nearly 40.8% of out-of-school children, or about 1,867,500 children. During the 2017 - 2018 and 2018 - 2019 school years, the initiatives of the "Women's Empowerment and Demographic Dividend in the Sahel (SWEDD)" project have made it possible to absorb 17% of this number.
**Role of the ****West Africa Health Organisation (WAHO)**
The West Africa Health Organisation (WAHO) is part of the big force putting women’s health at the centre of development in the Sahel Region. Professor Stanley Okolo, its director general shared some insight on the organization's work with us.
Jerry Fisayo-Bambi: To begin with, your organization’s access to the highest decision makers in the west Africa region is quite unique, and huge given your convening power, what are you doing to engage political powers for the issues of concerns in the SWEDD Project?
RESPONSE: The West Africa Health Organisation (WAHO) is an inter-governmental organisation. It is the health institution of ECOWAS.
And what we have done is to try and bring to the highest levels the issue of women's and girls empowerment and also their reproductive health and rights.
So we have developed a directive on women's health rights. We are at the moment also working within the Human Capacity Development Project of ECOWAS Commission, which is not just on the issue of health alone, but as you know, human capacity development cuts across. W
We have also utilized some of this convening power in terms of looking at advocacy at the highest levels.
Jerry Fisayo-Bambi: Indeed and we see that the work, that you and partners are doing with the established regional centres of excellence for the training of Nurses and midwives to meet the health needs of the region is quite interesting . What is this endeavor all about in the first place and what is the future?
RESPONSE: _Right now, you see a lot of the training usually of doctors, not just nurses and midwives, but mainly nurses and midwives. A lot of the training tends to be clinical. So how do we move from clinical to service areas to service and development? _
_ And that's why we decided that it was necessary to establish in the first instance three specialty areas. So we are talking about something like Health Service Pedagogy._
_We are talking about Health Service development. We are talking about reproductive health. These are the specialised areas, where we have developed a master's degree programme for nurses and midwives in our initial three centres of excellence in Cote d'Ivoire, in Niger and in Mali. But we also are expanding this now and we're going to add three more countries to try and ensure that we are already training nurses. _
So t\_hat not only midwives come out with the technical knowledge to deliver care, but others along them can as well, with the understanding and the aptitude to look at the regional issues in terms of Reproductive health and rights of women and children._
UNFPA- Key initiator of the SWEDD project
Sexual and reproductive health and rights are an essential part of universal health coverage and experts on the subject believe that countries moving towards that, need to consider how that of girls and women are met.
The UNFPA’s current strategic plan 2018-2021, which ends this year in December, and the newly adopted 2022-2025 Plan focuses on sexual and reproductive health and rights, something that Ms Argentina Matavel, regional director of the UNFPA West and Central Africa describes as an essential element of the fight against many sexual and reproductive vices.
She also spoke about how the first months of the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted and aggravated long-standing inequities in health care availability and access, and how the UNFPA helped out in the Sahel. Women in the sahel continued to benefit from health care including sexual and reproductive health services, she explained.
Ms. Matavel then highlighted the importance of Social and Behaviour Change Communication, (SBCC) to the improvement of women and girls access to health services.
_This episode of Inspire Africa concludes with an excerpt from a single produced as part of the #StrongerTogether Campaign of the #SWEDD project by 11 artists from the Sahel to raise awareness about the fight against violence against women and girls during the COVID-pandemic." _