Being bold in an humanitarian crisis

Wednesday, 8 Mar 2017
"To be bold for change means that women should come out of the shell they impede themselves in due to cultural norms, and start breaking that shell and do whatever they can to help their community."

Who are you?

Dr Eman, Consultant Obstetrician and Gynaecologist. Before I worked with Options I was the Director General of Reproductive Health and Family Planning Directorate at the Ministry of Public Health and Population.

What do you do?

Now I am the Programme Director for the Yemen Voucher programme.

The programme is managed by Options and implemented by Yamaan Foundation for Health and social Development.

The programme distributes two types of vouchers; safe motherhood and family planning.  The safe motherhood voucher is given to pregnant women and covers services such as antenatal visits, delivery (normal or caesarean), postnatal family planning treatment, complications of the mother or baby, transport fees and the cost of accommodation for a companion. The family planning voucher is given to married women and covers services such as counselling, short term and long term methods of contraception. The most important thing that I consider to make this programme successful is that we cover the cost of transport to the facility and back again, for delivery and any complications.

The Ministry of Health put a lot of work into educating women on their health and behaviour change communications. They spent a lot of money on building and renovating hospitals, buying equipment and training staff. But women still did not use the services and most of them delivered at home with unskilled birth attendants.

Once our programme covered the cost of transport and the services, women started using the facilities! This means that the main obstacle that prevented women accessing reproductive health services was not because they weren’t educated, illiterate, or not empowered. The only thing preventing them was poverty.

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

Women, especially in Arab countries underestimate themselves, although you can find potential women leaders. So my understanding to be bold for change means to me that women should come out of the shell they impeded themselves in due to cultural norms and start breaking that shell and do whatever they can to help their community.   

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

It was a difficult decision for me when I was in the Ministry of Health to leave and become a Programme Director. I was Director General of Reproductive Health at that time and I was offered to become a Deputy Minister, but I felt that I wasn’t helping women directly. My friends thought it was a strange decision – they told me I was crazy! My aim is to do something that really helps people. Being a Deputy Minister isn’t important to me. I had to do something to help women in our country. The programme has really good results and I feel that I made the right decision to move from formulating the strategies to helping women directly in the community, thanks to the work of the team at Options and Yamaan who make this programme successful.

What challenges to being ‘bold for change’ do you face in Yemen?

The war is a big challenge for us. The insecurities in Yemen started in January 2014; there was no government during that time. In March 2015, the war started. We suffer a lot and the programme is affected because there was a war in Lahj, the governorate where we were working. No one could go outside. Every two weeks, our team was supposed to contact the distributer to upload the data of voucher distribution. But during this time, the distributer was unable to bring the information to the town. I needed the data to process claims. It was a problem. The programme team in the field created a WhatsApp group to start sharing the information. This solved the issue!

Despite these challenges, the programme continued and women needed the voucher programme more as the poverty rate increased. Now the programme is considered to be the main intervention for preventing maternal deaths during the humanitarian situation.

The challenge I faced during the war was when I thought about whether to stay in the country or to leave. When I found the programme was continuing and women needed the programme even more than before the war, I decided to stay and do my best with the help of the team to continue running the programme.

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

From the experience of the war, I say try your best to help other people. You will find a good feeling. It can be anything, especially poor people. Just do it, you will feel really satisfied. You have to make a decision. Don’t go with what other people think or say, follow what you want to do.

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