When women work together, change happens. Regardless of where you live in the world, this is a fact that cannot be denied. Women give life, care for their families, work in markets, trade commodities and help their families grow and thrive. We have all heard that if you invest in a woman, she in turn will invest 90% of what she earns back into her family to improve their livelihood. So why do millions of women – and their babies – continue to face unnecessary and life-threatening risk and danger around the world every day? Women lack access to adequate healthcare facilities, skilled birth attendants and at times are not allowed to receive care from a healthcare facility due to cultural stigmas. Despite notable progress that has been achieved, the fact remains that health disparities for women and newborns continue to be broad and interlinked.

In 2014, the World Health Organization set forth a recommendation based on fifteen years of maternal and newborn health research. The recommendation posited the need to create women’s groups to improve the health of mother’s and newborns around the world. The good news is, change for the health of mothers, their babies and communities in happening right now in countries like Bangladesh, Malawi and India. Over the past six years, women’s groups have been piloted in these countries. The purpose of these groups is four-fold. Women of reproductive age and expectant mothers gather together in their communities to identify and prioritize maternal and newborn health issues. Many of these groups are led by community health workers and skilled birth attendants. Women and in many groups men begin to work together to strategize on how they help mothers and babies thrive in their communities.

In rural Bangladesh, these strategies were put into practice as health workers gathered mothers and their young children into groups. Mothers attended at least six meetings prior to giving birth. They were supported and learned about good health practices and proper newborn care. From 2009-2011, there was a 38% reduction in newborn mortality in these communities. In India, expectant mothers between the ages of 15-49 participated in women’s groups from 2009 to 2012. Through a participatory learning process, women came together to talk about the maternal and newborn health issues in their communities. Through learning about the problems and seeking effective solutions, there was a 31% reduction in neonatal mortality in these communities.

In Malawi, change for mothers and newborns is happening in leaps and bounds. In a country where maternal mortality still remains very high, at 510 per 100,000 live births, communities are stepping up to tackle the issues. Reporting and understanding maternal deaths is a significant problem in a variety of communities in Malawi. Through University College of London’s (UCL) Institute for Global Health, in a pilot study conducted from 2011-2012 communities in the Mchinji district rallied together from 2011 to 2012 working to report maternal deaths. Through identifying the number of maternal deaths in their community, community members were able to think about the causes of death as well as potential solutions.

Women and Children First UK is leading the way in their approach to women’s groups in Malawi and other regions of the world. Through their work with women’s groups the number of mother’s seeking care from skilled birth attendants and receiving post-natal care has increased significantly. Mikey Rosato, Senior Programs Manager, passionately talked about the change happening among mothers, fathers and entire communities. Women’s groups are nothing new nor are they rocket science. Rosato remarked, “When you bring 30 women together in a community they have all the power they need to create change for maternal health.” Rosato and other colleagues focus on local community-led approaches which are the best solutions for improving the lives of women, mothers, fathers and the entire community as a whole. The result? Feasible solutions and action for mothers and babies which is led by the community for the community.

In all of the women’s health groups, women and communities spent time evaluating their work.  The Women’s Groups model is a sustainable way to work towards improving the lives of women, mothers and newborns around the world. These groups are further evidence that women’s strength often comes in numbers. Communities, women and healthcare facilities can and are working together to create change and improve the lives of mothers and babies.

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Cover Photo Credit: Macpepple-jaja foundation, Flickr Creative Commons

Follow the hashtag #GlobalMNH and @GirlsGlobe on Twitter, Instagram and Periscope for live coverage from the Global Maternal Newborn Health Conference, and stay tuned on girlsglobe.org.

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