Credit: A4E / MamaYe

Gender equality and social inclusion

Gender equality is a universal human right. It is foundational to our vision of a world where everyone can access high-quality health services, no matter where they live and without financial burden. For thirty years, Options has worked to transform health systems by improving access to health services and outcomes, especially for women and children, with a strong focus on reproductive, maternal, newborn, child and adolescent health (RMNCAH). We have pioneered rights-based approaches which put the voices of women and girls at the centre of programme design and evaluation, strengthen women’s movements, reduce unsafe abortion and work to end female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C). During COVID-19, we have placed women and girls at the centre of our programmatic responses, with a focus on keeping essential RMNCAH services available for those who need them.

Research and design with women and girls

Options has pioneered innovative methods of participatory research and co-creation with women and girls to ensure solutions respond to their needs. These include our Participatory Ethnographic Evaluation and Research (PEER) method and human-centred design (HCD) approaches. We also use political economy analysis (PEA) across the programme life cycle to examine how other social markers of difference (for example, ethnicity orsocioeconomic status) result in experiences of inequality.

Participatory approaches have helped us understand drivers of FGM/C and maternal mental health in different country contexts, and have shaped the design of our Safire programme, which supports adolescents to access integrated sexual and reproductive health services in Kenya and Nigeria in order to dramatically reduce deaths and injury from unsafe abortions.

Gender-responsive quality health services

Applying a gender lens is critical to improving the quality of, and access to, health services. We provide technical assistance (for example, on health financing and planning) to support national and local governments to strengthen health systems for quality RMNCAH services, overcoming financial and other barriers to access. We also build powerful advocacy coalitions with governments, civil society and the media to prioritise sexual and reproductive health (SRH) and family planning (FP) to meet the needs of women and girls.

For example, in Yemen, we worked on the Safe Motherhood and Family Planning Voucher Programme to distribute vouchers to women to cover the costs of RMNCAH services and transport. The programme helped keep these services afloat and accessible even during prolonged periods of conflict.

Putting products and technologies in the hands of women and girls

We aim to increase access to products and technologies that enhance  the power of women and girls to control their own bodies and health. This includes devices such as self-administered long-acting reversible contraception and drugs for medical abortion.

For example, when COVID-19 restrictions led to a fall in FP uptake in Madagascar, our WISH programme acted quickly to accelerate the national roll-out of self-injectable contraception and worked with government to launch the programme virtually. Women and girls can now receive training on self-administration, receive the first three-month injection and take home two further doses to use themselves.

Tackling harmful gender norms

From grassroots dialogue to global advocacy, Options has led ground-breaking social and behaviour change communications initiatives that centre women and girls’ voices and perspectives within sensitive gendered issues, including FGM/C and safe abortion.

Our multi-country end-FGM/C programme, The Girl Generation, has created the largest global network to end FGM/C, with over 900 member organisations. The programme has built networks of youth activists and Social Change Trainers to support sustained social norms change at multiple levels of society.

Empowering women-led organisations

Women’s rights organisations and women’s movements are widely recognised as key change makers , yet they are under-resourced and often excluded from decision-making spaces. We are experienced at designing and managing inclusive granting mechanisms that support frontline gender equality activists to achieve transformational change.

We also provide technical assistance and capacity-building support to 40 global innovators across Asia, Africa, Europe and the Americas to design, pilot and scale cutting-edge innovations and technologies that improve access to safe abortion for women, girls and LGBTQI+ groups.


MANI has distributed 11,342 vouchers to poor mothers to enable them access to quality MNH services

In Nepal 21 one-stop crisis management centres have been established and strengthened in hospitals

Our experts

  • Joanne Hemmings, PhD
    Joanne provides technical expertise across sexual and reproductive health and rights, gender, research and evaluation, social and behaviour change, and business and strategy development. She’s currently supporting programming to end female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) and to support girls’ choices to reduce unsafe abortion.
  • Lyla Adwan-Kamara
    Lyla's experience spans both the corporate and development sectors, including living and working in Sierra Leone, with a focus on encouraging participation and supporting people to speak up. Prior to joining Options, Lyla was CEO at a User-Led Deaf and Disabled People's Organisation, leading policy work and advice and advocacy programmes, including hate crime prevention, for people with disabilities, including mental health disabilities.

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