I’ve just returned from a trip to Malawi, where I joined with a special delegation of members of the Aspen Institute’s Global Leaders Council for Reproductive Health (GLCRH), including former Irish President Mary Robinson, former Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga, former South African Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, former Minister of Health for Botswana Joy Phumaphi, President and CEO of the Global Fund for Women Musimbi Kanyoro.
In Malawi, 675 out of every 100,000 women die in childbirth, or from pregnancy related problems. 90% of those problems are considered preventable, yet despite the desperate need in Malawi and other countries in Africa, parts of Asia and Latin America, millions of women continue to lack access to basic reproductive health services. One out of four women in Malawi still cannot obtain contraception, a problem which contributes to the high maternal mortality rate.
The country’s population has surged from 3 million in 1950, to 15 million in 2010. With 46% of the population under the age of 15, family planning is additionally viewed as a critical component in efforts to deal with the effect of population growth on food security. President Joyce Banda and her administration are committed to family planning as an essential health service, and she is reaching out to women in rural areas, working at village level to convince men and influential elders that by improving maternal health, reproductive services ultimately contributes to stronger, and more stable families and communities.
To quote Peggy Clarke, the Director of the GLCRH "Investing in reproductive health will pay enormous dividend in development.When women and men have access to voluntary family planning, poverty rates go down, education rates go up, and greater prosperity for families and their communities follow".
As I travelled through parts of the rural countryside, it was obvious to me that many of the numbers of young women I saw with babies on their backs were still (pretty much) girls…at a guess I’d say, roughly 15 or 16 years old.
Noticing a little girl of about six or seven years old carrying her infant brother on her back, I couldn’t help but wonder what her future would hold….