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International Women's Day 2018: Rural and Urban Activists Transforming Women's Lives

The theme for International Women’s Day, 8 March, is “Time is Now: Rural and urban activists transforming women’s lives”.

Across Asia-Pacific and globally, UNFPA works to achieve Three Transformational Results at the core of our Strategic Plan 2018-2021: Zero maternal deaths, zero unmet need for family planning and zero gender-based violence and other harmful practices against women and girls. 

This supports the longstanding goals of the ICPD Programme of Action as well as the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development underpinned by its Sustainable Development Goals whose pledge is ultimately to reach the most vulnerable and leave no one behind. 

Making this pledge a reality needs urgent action everywhere, but all the more so in rural and neglected areas to ensure adequate standards of living, a life free of violence and harmful practices for rural women, as well as their access to land and productive assets, food security and nutrition, decent work, education and health, including their sexual and reproductive health and rights. 

UNFPA partners with governments and civil society to focus on sexual and reproductive health and rights, to ensure that every pregnancy is wanted, every childbirth is safe and every young person's potential is fulfilled.  

This vision, together with our Three Transformational Results, is symbolized by the following stories illustrating how "transformative activism" encompasses midwifery and skilled birth attendance; youth advocating for comprehensive sexuality education and an end to child marriage; communities where women and girls work with men and boys to address gender-based violence; and - reflecting the fast-changing demographics in our region - how population ageing is bringing about new approaches to ensuring the well-being of older persons, in particular women who, in general, significantly outlive men. 



Midwives bridge inequalities in remote Lao PDR

Midwife Khoun Keobouttavong performs an antenatal check-up in rural Laos. © UNFPA / Ruth Carr

From the sky, Savannakhet Province, in southern Lao PDR, exudes an idyllic beauty. Roughly translated as ‘Land of Fertility’ or “Golden Land”, Savannakhet appears as a glorious mosaic of rice paddies, rivers and dirt roads which criss-cross dense woodland-like strands of rust-coloured cotton thread.

Yet down below, on the ground, those tiny lines reveal themselves as something else entirely. Muddy tracks, potholed, deep-crevassed, animal-littered - and treacherous.

“Just lie still and relax. Breathe slowly. That’s it”.

Kneeling on the oor of a rickety stilt house, midwife Khoun Keobouttavong presses a small wooden horn known as a ‘pinard’ into a pregnant belly. In front of her, Out, 30 years old and six months pregnant, is laid out at. From below the house, the constant clank of cowbells, rooster calls, and tok-tok engines suggest a vibrant chaos, but up here Out looks peaceful, almost trancelike, under Khoun’s gentle care.

“The heart is beating well,” Khoun tells Out, smiling. “Now let’s do some measurements”.

The full story here:


In rural Cambodia, women volunteers help bring a stunning drop in maternal deaths

Community health volunteer Romam Pchuek has transformed her practices and in so doing transformed the lives and prospects of hundreds of women in rural Cambodia. Photo: UNFPA / Matthew Taylor

Health volunteer Romam Pchuek used to help women give birth the traditional way, using dangerous practices at home.

“I pushed their bellies down harder when the baby wouldn’t come out,” she says, “but if there were problems it got dangerous, we didn’t have any equipment or medicine on hand.”

Yet five years ago, Pcheuk joined a government-led initiative, supported by UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, that aimed to educate women in far-flung communities on safe pregnancy and childbirth, to stop women using dangerous practices and, crucially, to ensure all pregnant women are referred on to professional health care providers.

Today, Pchuek covers hundreds of pregnant women in Sakreang and other nearby villages, with education, information and referral support.

The full story here:


"Blessing in disguise": Fistula survivor now community advocate

Zobayeda experienced heartbreak and physical trauma, but the fistula survivor is now an activist and advocate in rural Bangladesh. Photo: UNFPA Bangladesh

After three days of labour pain, Zobayeda discovered her baby had died.

“I got married when I was 16 and soon became pregnant. When I started experiencing pain, the dai traditional birth attendant couldn’t help me,” she says.

“Days later I was taken to a hospital where my lifeless child was delivered. After my catheter was removed, I started passing urine uncontrollably.”

Zobayeda developed obstetric fistula – a serious childbirth injury from obstructed or prolonged labour. A hole forms between the birth canal and bladder or rectum, causing incontinence.

The full story here:


In rural Nepal, girls play volleyball to take a stand against child marriage

Khuma Sunar and other girls found an unusual way to take a stand against child marriage. Photo: UNFPA Nepal/Santosh Chhetri

Khuma Sunar trekked three hours from her village to reach Libang, the district headquarters, and play a game that was previously dominated by boys in this part of the mid-western hills of Nepal.

Thanks to 32 adolescent players like her, girls in Rolpa have set a good example to others that they can also play volleyball and raise their voices against child marriage through sports.

Girls in Rolpa face a wide range of challenges, including entrenched gender discrimination, high rates of adolescent pregnancy and harmful practices such as child marriage.

It is estimated that as many as 73.8 % of girls in Rolpa get married between the ages of 10 to 19. The national average is 41%. A violation of human rights, child marriage robs adolescent girls of their childhood. Those who are married off early are too often forced to drop out of school, bear children before they are ready, and are subjected to violence and abuse.

The full story here


Girls' voices essential in Philippines campaign against teen pregnancy

Shaina Macmac is among the teen activists in the Philippines advocating for comprehensive sexuality education and working to prevent teen pregnancy. Photo: UNFPA Philippines/Mario Villamor

“I want to be a doctor someday,” said Shaina Macmac, 16, a senior at the WPU-Agricultural Science High School in Palawan, a southwestern province of the Philippines. “Aspirations in life drive young girls like me to push forward even though we face challenges every day.”
 And there are challenges.
The Philippines is the only country in Southeast Asia where teenage pregnancy rates are not falling, according to a 2015 UNFPA study.
There are 10 million girls aged 10-19 years old in the country, and, like Shaina, they have hopes and dreams. But by age 19, 1 in 5 girls will be a mother, according to the country’s 2013 demographic and health survey.
“I have seen in my community when a girl becomes pregnant, her life changes dramatically,” said Shaina. “Some stop pursuing their education and their job opportunities diminish. She becomes more vulnerable to poverty and her health often suffers,” she added.


Youth smash sexism in Bangladesh

The UNFPA-supported Generation Breakthrough initiative under Partners for Prevention in rural Bangladesh has reached 140,000 young people with lessons in life, love and relationships with a view to strengthening gender equality and ending violence against women. Photo: UNFPA / Matthew Taylor

The roots of violence against women run deep in Bangladesh, where a national survey has indicated that half of all women suffer some form of violence in their lifetimes.

Growing up in the southern city of Barisal, Mohammad Rabiul Hassan (17) saw the age-old attitudes that drive violence against women at school, with friends, and even in his own home.  

“When Dad brought us all fish for dinner, Mum always made sure I got the best bits. She said ‘You, son, you will take care of us in the future, so you need to sharpen up your brain.’ My little sister, she always got the leftovers. To her, Mum would say, ‘You’ll be leaving us for your in-laws soon, so you won’t be here to take care of us.’

“Also, I got to go to the village fair when it was in town, and I went to a good school,” Hassan recalls. “All this made me feel pretty good about myself. I thought, ‘It’s great to be a boy.’

The full story here:

Watch the Generation Breakthrough video here:


Indonesia's Rivaldo scores for a violence-free future 

After a violent early childhood, Rivaldo Taime (13) is helping his family and community become more functional and peaceful, with a focus on ending gender-based violence. Photo: UNFPA/Matthew Taylor

Like the international football star he’s named after, Rivaldo Taime (13) was born poor, with a rough childhood.

In Jayapura, West Papua, Rivaldo’s hometown in Indonesia’s most far-eastern province, jobs are scarce, infrastructure and services are weak, and many still live in poverty. Across much of West Papua, traditional attitudes towards family and gender-roles rule, and in many families the oldest sons, like Rivaldo, are expected to play ‘man of the house’ when the father is away.  

Yet for Rivaldo, this took on a harsher meaning, as he was often forced to shield his brother when their dad returned home in one of his whiskey-fuelled rages.

“He used to drink all the time,” recalls Emma (42), Rivaldo’s mother. “He would get home, yell at my children and smash things up.”

“Of course, my husband and my boys weren’t close. They barely even talked,” she adds.

In West Papua, UN research indicates that over 40% of all women and children have suffered violence, and over 33 per cent of women between the ages of 15 and 64 experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetimes.

The full story here:


Going the last mile on family planning in Myanmar

Midwife Nan Mya Phyu discusses family planning with Nan Aye Aye Han in Nam Khoke Village, Shan State, Myanmar

Midwives and other health care workers are transforming the family planning landscape in rural Myanmar. Photo: UNFPA Myanmar

Ma Mar Mar Win listens carefully as the midwife explains about different contraceptive methods.

All the time, she thinks about her family. Her husband works in a variety of jobs - farmhand, small-scale fisherman, and day labourer. With their meager income, they support five children, the youngest barely more than a month old. She would have liked to start using contraceptives years ago.

“We are a poor family,” says Ma Mar Mar Win. “I knew women could take contraceptives for birth spacing. But I could not afford it. It’s too complicated for me and my family. Having more children means more hardships for us. It doesn’t mean we don’t love them. But we can’t raise them properly with good education and medical care, to name just a few basic needs.”

Today Mar Mar Win receives a depo shot – a preferred contraceptive method in Myanmar - from a midwife visiting her and her newborn. She is highly pleased.

“Well, to receive a depo shot at home for free, and also care for my newborn! A few years before, I might think of it as a dream. Now, it has become a reality.”

The full story here:


By caring for each other, China’s seniors find a new lease on life

In Jingyang township, Shanxi Province, 74-year-old Li Shulan (left) checks up on her 81-year-old friend Wang Xuexia. Photo: UNFPA China/Zhang Xiaohua

In the remote town of Gaoban in the western Chinese province of Sichuan, centenarian Tang Chomao lives alone, relying on volunteers to give him care, assistance and a lifeline to the outside world.

Like many of the hundreds of seniors living in Gaoban his pension is meager, his health coverage is poor and the younger generations, that in bygone days would have cared for their grandparents, have long since moved to cities in search of better jobs.

Yet facing an uncertain future, Gaoban’s senior citizens have come together to care for one another, including the most vulnerable like Tang. And in the process, have found a new lease on life themselves.

The town’s Older Persons Association, once little more than a struggling social club for seniors, now runs a care centre for all 540 of Gaoban’s elderly residents.

The full story here: