Advocating for women in remote areas

Wednesday, 8 Mar 2017
"'Be bold for change’ would be identifying an issue and consistently following up and advocating for the change."

Who are you?

I am Maureen Dar Iang, and I’m from Burma. I have been based in Kathmandu for the last 19 years. I am working with Nepal Health Sector Support Programme for the last 6.5 years, working with the Ministry of Health, focusing on maternal, newborn and child health, supporting the government to implement new health programmes.

What does ‘be bold for change’ mean to you?

In my current role, ‘be bold for change’ would be identifying an issue and consistently following up and advocating for the change.  I am currently advocating for improving services for women and children in remote and underserved areas of Nepal.  We have been talking about remote areas, reaching unreached and marginalise women for a long time, but change is very slow. I think this is partly because it is very difficult to reach unreached populations; we hesitate to try because we know we might fail.  It is also very expensive.  This is one of the issues I have been pushing in various fora. So it’s moving beyond talking about remote women, and turning this into action.  Change takes time, so we have to keep on talking about it.

Tell us about a time when you’ve had to be bold.

For me, one of the things I have to be bold about is putting the issues that I care about, challenging issues, in front of big meetings including high level officials.  Recently we had a Joint Annual Review meeting in Nepal, where we talked about Aama (a programme which provides financial assistance to enable poor women to access maternal health care).  This has been very effective in saving lives of mothers and newborns. But if you look at the data, in 2006 the Cesarean section rate amongst the lowest quintile was 1%; in 2011 it was also 1%, and in 2014 is it still 1%. For me, being bold is about finding a way to finance health care that reaches these women.  Now we are talking about introducing a social health insurance system, which will have a positive impact in Nepal, but may not help us reach women who are currently unreached.  People are not thinking about reaching these women, they are thinking about the bigger agenda.  We need to keep on putting this issue in front of everyone, and I have to be extremely bold to do this.

What are the challenges for being bold in Nepal?

Getting an issue that is not currently being discussed onto the mainstream agenda is a big challenge.  If you are a woman and also you are not famous, it is hard to push your agenda in front of people who make policy decisions - in terms of decision making and leadership and change, women are still far behind.

What bold actions would you like other people to take to see a more inclusive and gender equal world?

Opportunities for change have to start with individuals, but I think there are a lot of people who have the same agenda.  If we bring our voices consistently together, keep on talking and keep on putting the issues we care about on the agenda, then we will be heard.  I think one of the things we should focus on is women’s education. If women are able to access education, I think change will happen slowly and gradually women’s voices will be heard.

The reason I am able to say what I say and do what I do is thanks to the women, and men, who have supported me and given me an environment in which I can work. I might be very bold, but if I don’t have that environment I won’t be able to achieve anything. I would also like to be able to give others that environment, to be able to speak for change.  If we can all do this, we will achieve changes in women’s lives.

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