Women’s groups have proved to be an important component in community mobilisation programmes which have been shown to make deep and lasting improvements to the health and wellbeing of communities. Community mobilisation achieves these improvements by empowering communities to identify and address important needs themselves.
In many poor communities women do not have regular access to other community members, nor are they given the opportunity to voice their opinions. Women’s groups are therefore particularly effective in bringing women with similar needs together to discuss topics that are of concern to them and begin to devise their own solutions.
Over the last decade a number of innovative studies have shown that women’s groups can lead to substantial increases in newborn survival as well notable improvements in maternal and newborn care and wellbeing.
- The Warmi Project in Bolivia demonstrated that community organization can improve maternal and child health in remote areas and reduced newborn mortality by nearly 50 per cent.
- The Makwanpur Study in Nepal showed that birth outcomes in a poor rural population improved greatly through a low cost, potentially sustainable and scalable, participatory intervention with women’s groups – the project achieved a 30 per cent reduction in newborn deaths and maternal mortality was significantly lower in intervention areas. A further study of the Makwanpur research describes the implementation of this intervention: the community entry process, the facilitation of monthly meetings through a participatory action cycle of problem identification, community planning, and implementation and evaluation of strategies to tackle the identified problems. The main findings were that this large scale and potentially sustainable participatory intervention with women's groups, which focused on pregnancy, childbirth and the newborn period, resulted in innovative strategies identified by local communities to tackle perinatal care problems.
- The Ekjut Study found that Women’s groups led by peer facilitators reduced neo-natal mortality (by 45 percent over two years) and moderate maternal depression (by 57 percent) at low cost in largely tribal, rural populations of eastern India. This paper Explaining the impact of a women’s group led community mobilisation intervention on maternal and newborn health outcomes: the Ekjut trial process evaluation describes the context, content, and implementation of the successful Ekjut intervention, identifying potential mechanisms behind its impact, and reporting challenges experienced in the field.
Building on the learning from these various studies the paper Improving Newborn Survival in Low-Income Countries: Community-Based Approaches and Lessons from South Asia highlighted five key things we need to know to make community interventions work for maternal and newborn survival.
This paper Explaining the impact of a women’s group led community mobilisation intervention on maternal and newborn health outcomes: the Ekjut trial process evaluation describes the context, content, and implementation of the successful Ekjut intervention, identifying potential mechanisms behind its impact, and reporting challenges experienced in the field.
Over a quarter of a million women and three million newborn babies die each year in pregnancy and childbirth or soon afterwards, the majority of them in Africa and South Asia. For every woman who dies at least twenty more suffer complications which leave them with lifelong disability and pain.
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