There are many reasons why women, babies and children die unnecessarily but if communities are mobilised to identify and discuss their own needs, these can often be addressed through simple, low-cost initiatives. However, in many poor communities women may not have regular access to other community members or opportunities to voice their opinions.
Women and Children First has pioneered ways of working with women's groups that empower the women themselves and have been shown to make deep and lasting improvements to the health and wellbeing of the wider community.
Women’s groups bring women with similar needs together to discuss topics that are of concern to them, helping them devise their own solutions. This is based on a participatory learning and action cycle approach, in which group members identify and prioritise maternal and newborn health problems in the community, collectively select strategies to address these problems, implement the strategies, and assess the results. Community members who are not regular group members are also encouraged to participate in discussions.
The women’s group approach has been tested in multiple countries in Africa and Asia and has been shown to be successful in improving maternal and newborn care practices in the community and reducing maternal and newborn mortality.
An overarching assessment of that research has been carried out which demonstrates the impact of women’s groups in a range of different contexts. This meta-analysis, entitled Women’s groups practising participatory learning and action to improve maternal and newborn health in low-resource settings: a systematic review and meta-analysis, demonstrates that women’s groups can reducematernal deaths by up to 55% (where at least 30% of pregnant women took part in the groups) and newborn deaths by a third. This research will enable other countries and communities to learn from and build on this powerful, low-cost initiative.
Other studies are listed in the Find out more section below.
Find out more
The Warmi Project in Bolivia demonstrated how community organisation can improve maternal and child health in remote areas.
The Makwanpur Study in Nepal showed that women's groups can significantly cut newborn deaths by 30%.
The Ekjut trial showed that in marginalised populations in eastern India, newborn mortality could be cut by 45% where women's groups were established.
The trial of two interventions in Malawi showed that community initiatives can result in a 74% reduction in maternal deaths and 41% reduction in newborn deaths.
The MaiKhanda trial reduced maternal, newborn and perinatal deaths by up to 22% by mobilizing communities through women’s groups, task forces and through quality improvement at health facilities.
The PCP trial 2013 showed the effect of increased coverage of participatory women’s groups to reduce neonatal mortality by 38% in Bangladesh.