White Ribbon Alliance

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Self-Care: For You, For Me, For Us

July 14, 2017
By Betsy McCallon, White Ribbon Alliance CEO

Together with Bayer and Every Woman Every Child, White Ribbon Alliance celebrated recent self-care campaign successes during a side-event at the High-Level Political Forum. Self-care's broad range of desirable qualities - including its sustainability, efficiency, and its ability to unite people from a vast variety of cultures, backgrounds, and professions by creating a truly interdisciplinary lens - makes it an important part of WRA's holistic view of health, with a focus beyond health service delivery.

Self-care can make a significant contribution to the transform agenda of Every Woman Every Child and the SDGs, and is especially important in reaching the most vulnerable populations of women across the world.

Self-care has been receiving a lot of attention in the US media recently, but it paints a very narrow view of meditation and yoga for busy professionals. During pregnancy and with a new baby, many women often have information overload and need to take time to be present and focus on themselves and their well-being. But for the majority of women around the world, risks associated with pregnancy and childbirth are stunningly high, so gaining knowledge and confidence to manage one’s health is nothing short of revolutionary.

Self-care is a good example of the cross-sectoral approach required by the SDGs. We won’t meet the health targets within the health sector alone. Self-care links health, education, gender equity, women’s empowerment, and community development, which all impact economic prosperity from individuals to nations. Self-care changes the relationship between a woman and her health care provider, benefitting the woman, the health provider and the health system. The ripple effects of self-care are tremendous and we are just starting to see some of these with our programs in Bangladesh, Bolivia and Zimbabwe, focused in remote communities but linked to a policy agenda to bring changes across the entire country.

In Galachipa, Bangladesh, where access to health information is practically nonexistent and medical resources are scarce, 1,000 homes were visited in rapport-building sessions and 300 women registered to attend self-care birth preparedness classes. In Moxos, Bolivia - where access to nutritious food can be a day or more travel away - and which has extremely high rates of low birth weight babies, indigenous women are working directly with the Ministry of Health to strengthen a new policy meant to help pregnant women receive nutritional services, services that weren’t being accessed and can save lives. Additionally, the women leaders have developed and are distributing a cookbook with recipes from the Ministry of Health and women in the community, focusing on nutritionally balanced meals.

And, in Zimbabwe, where maternal death rates are one of the highest in the world, community health workers in the district of Kwekwe were trained on self-care practices and are now working directly with pregnant women and new mothers. They are giving real-time feedback to each other to share what resonates most with women and families and are shaping a self-care curriculum for community health workers nationwide.

All of these programs are focused on saving lives by addressing the most urgent needs in the community, as identified by the community.

We know that one of the biggest barriers to women and children receiving quality care is about who holds the power: knowledge and decision-making. Self-care is a great equalizer. It changes the power dynamic so that women direct their own health care, including increasing demand for quality services. This avenue toward equity also brings dignity to women, who are often treated as second-class citizens, because self-care equips and empowers women to be the directors of their own health. With knowledge and confidence, women will make the best decisions for themselves and their families' health.

Self-care principles are the basic “teach a person to fish”, but they are also transformative as you can’t take the knowledge and confidence away. Women will also share knowledge - teaching their children and grandchildren – so it is passed down for generations. Linked with smart policy, we can bring these changes to every woman and child who needs them, no matter where they live.