What is a Women's Group?

Mothers and babies are dying unnecessarily because they and their families don't recognise the risks or have access to simple, low-cost solutions.

Women and Children First has developed ways of working with groups of women that reach the whole community and have a dramatic effect on saving lives.

The women’s groups meet regularly to learn how to identify problems that arise during pregnancy, delivery and after the birth of a baby, discussing how best to deal with them. Facilitators are trained to involve everyone in the group, and the women learn, share information and decide together how to address their problems.

Women's groups

  • have 25-30 female members
  • do not exclude men
  • meet on a regular basis
  • are facilitated by trained, local women
  • identify health problems that affect or concern the group
  • work out low-cost, low-tech solutions to address these problems.

Delays that cause deaths

The risks facing mothers and newborns are social as well as medical, and the women's groups discuss how to avoid the three delays that can affect the outcome of pregnancy and childbirth. These are delays in:

  • deciding to seek skilled medical care
  • getting to skilled medical care
  • obtaining appropriate care in a health facility.

Low-cost solutions

Women's groups have developed many practical and effective solutions that address maternal and newborn health in their own localities and communities. These include:

  • emergency funds
  • video shows
  • stretcher schemes
  • bicycle ambulances
  • picture cards to raise pregnant women’s awareness of how to look after themselves and their newborns and how to recognise a health emergency.

Women's groups save lives

The results of a meta-analysis, including seven randomised controlled trials undertaken in India, Bangladesh, Malawi and Nepal, demonstrate that, where at least 30% of pregnant women took part in the groups, maternal deaths can be reduced by up to 55% and newborn deaths by a third.

Prost et al (2013), Women’s groups practising participatory learning and action to improve maternal and newborn health in low-resource settings: a systematic review and meta-analysis.

As well as changing the life prospects for women and children in pregnancy, childbirth and early infancy, participatory women's groups can be adapted to share knowledge about children's health and family planning and to work with local authorities and committees to improve health services.

The cost:

  • £80 runs a women’s group for a whole year;
  • £250 buys two bicycle ambulances to get mothers and babies to a clinic in an emergency;
  • £500 delivers a village health education campaign;
  • £1,000 enables 200 women to attend a women’s group for a whole year;
  • £2,000  trains three community health workers in maternal and newborn healthcare.

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