International Women’s Day 2019
Posted by Amy on Tuesday 5th March 2019
International Women’s Day has arrived! This year’s theme is #BalanceforBetter, spotlighting the need for gender balance in boardrooms, government, media coverage, wealth, sports… Everywhere!
Today is a day for celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women, and what better way to do this than by showcasing women who are kicking goals in their fields across our partner organisations.
You may recognise some of these outstanding women while others may be new to you. Each of these women is making a large and active difference across her field of work. We are proud to partner with and support the mission of each across our global Ethiopiaid offices.
Dr Ambaye: Surgeon
Dr Ambaye is a gynaecologist and leading fistula surgeon with local partner the Women & Health Alliance.
Based in Addis Ababa, Dr Ambaye travels regularly to the Gondar Fistula Hospital in Ethiopia’s north and also to Zimbabwe and Mozambique to assist with complicated surgeries and train more fistula surgeons – a critical need given that there are 3,000 new cases of fistula each year and barely more than 250 obstetricians and gynaecologists in Ethiopia equipped to treat it.
What is one of Dr Ambaye’s biggest challenges?
For Dr Ambaye, the challenge is not just to treat fistula but to help a woman maintain a fistula-free status.
“I used to get frustrated with patients who didn’t heed my advice about going to hospital to have a C-section if they got pregnant after fistula surgery,” says Dr Ambaye.
“Now I understand that many women live in such remote places, it is not easy for them to travel. Often their families will convince them that they are cured and should have the baby at home.”
Following surgery, Dr Ambaye makes it a point to connect with patients about the importance of long-term care and seeking out hospital care for a second birth.
Maria Munir: Justice
A former High Court Judge, Maria is the co-founder and director of the Association for Women’s Sanctuary and Development (AWSAD).
Through AWSAD, Maria opened the first safe house for abused women and girls in Ethiopia. The safe house operates under the premise that women and girls who have been abused need a range of services to help their recovery; from medical care, counselling and legal aid, to training in literacy and vocational skills.
From this first holistic safe house in the capital city, there are now five sanctuaries for survivors of abuse across Ethiopia, currently home to 259 women survivors and 70 children.
Maria’s mission for justice has taken her across Ethiopia and around the world to promote women’s rights and the need for capacity training in government bodies.
A former obstetric fistula patient, Berhan is now a trained Safe Motherhood Ambassador, a valuable and vocal voice for safe pregnancy & childbirth in rural districts.
Berhan lived with obstetric fistula for nine months following the birth of her fifth child. Through Healing Hands of Joy, Berhan was not only referred to a health centre for the treatment she needed but was given the opportunity to train as a Safe Motherhood Ambassador.
What does a normal day look like for Berhan?
On a given day, Berhan will walk on foot to a village on her roster. She will seek out new mothers and speak with them one on one about safe pregnancy and childbirth – a valuable resource in rural areas where this information is not widely known or shared. She’ll also check in on any other expectant mothers in the community, provide antenatal care such as blood tests for HIV, and may even accompany a woman in labour to the hospital, especially if she has never been in an ambulance before.
Nigisti Gebreslassie: Entrepreneur
Founder of the humanitarian Yenege Tesfa organisation, Nigisti runs life-changing programs for children’s homes, agricultural programs and medical assistance.
Nigisti is both the founder and full-time manager of Yenege Tesfa, meaning ‘Hope for Tomorrow’. She was spurred to take action after moving to Gondar and seeing the great need and lack of welfare that existed, especially for the many local children who were living on the street.
What are some of the programs Nigisti has established?
Children’s group homes, providing safe shelter, food, clothing, medicine and schooling for orphans and vulnerable children
Mobile school van which travels to different parts of the city each day and offers food and fun, interactive learning activities so children on the street still have the chance to learn
Agricultural training program which teaches single parents and those in rural areas how to grow seasonal crops and tend cattle for sustainable food and income
Community medical assistance program which provides coupons for free, quality medical treatment at local health centres for those in the community who need but cannot afford healthcare
Freweini Mebrahtu: Chemical Engineer
With a degree in chemical engineering, Freweini developed and patented a resuable sanitary pad which is changing how women and girls go through menstruation.
“The stories I heard were shocking,” says Freweini, speaking out about girls’ experiences with periods in rural Ethiopia.
“[Girls were] digging a hole and squatting over it for three to five days, or wrapping themselves with strips of cloth. I also noticed that they were uncomfortable talking about it – this is still a taboo subject.”
Freweini’s reusable sanitary pads are affordable, reliable, and environmentally friendly. In 2009, she founded the Mariam Seba Sanitary Products Factory which employs local women to produce over 600,000 pads and 300,000 pairs of underwear each year.
“It is my hope that this product will bring dignity to many more girls in Ethiopia.”
Dr Catherine Hamlin: Pioneer
Australian obstetrician and gynaecologist, Catherine and her husband Reg pioneered fistula treatment in Ethiopia.
Founding the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital which is the leading centre for fistula surgery, Catherine has forever changed the landscape of maternal health in Ethiopia.
What was a defining moment for Catherine?
It was Catherine’s very first fistula patient which spurred her life-long mission to eradicate fistula.
“We were touched and appalled by the sadness of our first fistula patient: a beautiful young woman in urine-soaked ragged clothes, sitting alone in our outpatients department away from the other waiting patients. We knew she was more in need than any of the others.”
This year marks 60 years since Catherine first arrived in Ethiopia with Reg. To this day, Catherine is as committed to transforming the lives of some of the world’s most vulnerable women as she was on the first day she arrived in Ethiopia.