Did you know that something as simple as handwashing can save lives? Hygiene is a critical, low -cost solution for preventing maternal and newborn infection and washing hands with soap is an easy and effective way to keep mothers and babies safe.  Women and Children First is sharing this simple solution to highlight Global Handwashing Day on 15 October. 

The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine estimates that if everyone routinely washed their hands, 1 million deaths a year could be prevented. A study in Nepal showed handwashing by birth attendants and mothers helped reduce neonatal mortality by 41%

In 2013 6.3 million children died before the age of 5. Over 50% of these deaths were caused by infectious diseases, many of which could have been prevented by mothers and other caregivers having clean hands.  Pneumonia is the infectious disease which kills most under-5’s, but it can be prevented simply by regular hand-washing.  Around 50% of cases of life-threatening diarrhoea can also be avoided in this way. 

Women who join one of Women and Children First’s women’s groups soon realise how important hand-washing is. They learn how to improve hygiene and sanitation in their homes and their villages and that their hands must be clean when they handle a newborn baby.  They also learn that if they give birth with a traditional birth attendant, that person’s hands must be clean to prevent infection for both mother and baby.  The group leaders use easy to understand picture cards to get the message across. 

Saving lives can be so easy - you too can help. Click here to see how.

Women and Children First is delighted to highlight the International Day of the Girl Child on 11 October and very pleased to see that this year’s theme is “The Power of the Adolescent Girl: Vision for 2020”.

Empowering girls and young women will help to achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals which aim to end poverty, combat climate change and fight injustice and inequality.

Women and Children First knows that empowering girls will make a very positive contribution to reducing the unacceptable numbers of three million newborns and 250,000 pregnant women dying each year.  The majority of these deaths take place in developing countries but most are preventable.  

Adolescent pregnancy affects around 16 million girls aged between 15 and 19 and is a major contributor to maternal and newborn mortality.   One million girls under 15 give birth each year. Pregnancy related complications are the second cause of death for 15-19 year old girls globally and the babies of adolescent mothers are more like to die than those born to those aged 20-24. In 2016 around 3 million girls will resort to unsafe abortions.

Providing opportunities for girls’ education and reducing illiteracy are very important to address these issues. Keeping girls in school is a big factor in reducing teenage pregnancy. Ensuring adolescent girls know their health rights and get access to comprehensive sexuality education and sexual and reproductive health counselling, information and services is vital.  Knowing their rights empowers girls to seek services such as family planning or treatment for sexually transmitted infections.  Having the right information ensures they get skilled medical care if they do get pregnant and know how to look after a newborn baby.

Women and Children First is committed to providing a continuum of care to ensure girls have the best chances for good reproductive health.

We are celebrating the International Day of the Girl Child because it will bring the world's attention to these issues.

Will you help? Just £5 can improve a mother and her baby’s chances of surviving pregnancy and childbirth.




At 17 years old, Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai asserted, “We cannot all succeed when half of us are held back. We call upon our sisters around the world to be brave – to embrace the strength within themselves and realize their full potential.”

On International Youth Day, Women and Children First wants to do just that: celebrate both the boys and the girls with just a bit more emphasis on the girls. Grace Kyallo talks about how Women and Children First's work helps young women and girls avoid early pregnancy, stay healthy and get an education which will enable them to play their part in achieving sustainable development.

The theme of the 2016 International Youth Day is “The Road to 2030: Eradicating Poverty and Achieving Sustainable Consumption and Production”. The focus is on the leading role of young people in ensuring poverty eradication and achieving sustainable development through sustainable consumption and production.  

There are over 62 million girls around the world who are not in school. A large portion of those girls are not in school because of early marriage and pregnancy. However, imagine how many girls of the 62 million would preserve their youth if they were educated. How far would they dream if they knew they had the opportunity? How hard would they work if they did not have the responsibility of being a wife in their teenage years? How many girls would become students instead of mothers if provided with reproductive health information? Whatever the answer may be, we can be sure that it is substantially less than 62 million girls.

At Women and Children First (WCF), we not only recognize that knowledge is a tool, but we also work to equip young women with the information they need to forge successful futures. Part of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is to empower all women and girls. Women and Children First aims to accomplish this through education. We can prevent early marriage and pregnancy by providing reproductive health information which will allow girls to focus on their education and dreams.

Worldwide, 12% of women between the ages of 15-49 who are married or in a marriage-like relationship, who want to avoid a pregnancy do not have access to or are not using an effective method of contraception. The unwanted pregnancies are disproportionate among young, unmarried girls who lack access to contraception. At the age of 15 years old, a girl should be able to choose a lifestyle that is not limited to wifehood or motherhood.

In the WCF women’s groups, we inform women and girls about the best way to look after themselves before, during, and after pregnancy. Reproductive health topics within the groups range from contraceptives to HIV/AIDS awareness. The women and girls are encouraged to seek medical attention during and after pregnancy and for childbirth, and to also get checkups at clinics for sexually transmitted infections. We want to make sure that we provide women and girls with the reproductive health awareness they need to make informed decisions.

A large portion of the maternal deaths which happen every two minutes of every day, are actually girls. Girls under the age of 18 are more likely to suffer complications during pregnancy or childbirth. In order to address this issue, WCF’s work includes a focus on Adolescent Health. For example, all of the 197 women’s groups in Bangladesh have identified under-aged marriage as a key problem. To address this issue, the women have established a referral service so that they report child marriage or teenage pregnancy to a government official, therefore promoting gender equality.

Cultural barriers prevent girls and women who are pregnant for the first time from attending women’s groups. However, people are beginning to discredit these taboos and recognize the health benefits of young women attending women’s groups. For instance, in Bangladesh, adolescent girls are less likely to attend women’s groups. Yet, from April 2015 to March 2016, of 22,010 girls from the age of 10-19, an astounding 24% of all girls attended the groups. WCF is delighted with this result, as it means these young women are getting sexual and reproductive health information and are more likely to get healthcare when they need it. 

Through advocacy, health systems and women’s groups, WCF does its best to ensure that access to reproductive health education and services does not prevent 62 million girls from choosing an education first and crafting their futures.

On this International Youth Day and beyond let’s focus on keeping the youth young, especially the girls! 

We invite you to make a contribution to this effort.

We are very excited to have partnered with Africa Fashion Week, at London Olympia. 

From Friday 9 September we will be at Olympia, talking to visitors and promoting our wonderful work. Do come and see us there! We are able to offer a 10% discount for tickets (with a percentage going to Women and Children First). Just type in CDON10 at the checkout! Follow the link here to book your tickets.

See you there!



Annemijn Sondaal, who researched the sustainability of women's groups with Joanna Morrison at the UCL Institute of Global Health, tells us more about women's groups once they have been set up and left to their own devices.

“It’s not a drug, it’s not a vaccine, it’s not a device. It’s women, working together, solving problems, saving lives” (Richard Horton, editor-in-chief of the Lancet, May 2013). Participatory women’s groups all over the world have been enabling women to engage in dialogue, exchange their ideas and experiences and enable them to take action to improve their community’s health. The University College London Institute of Global Health and its partners, have shown that participatory women’s groups can, with participation of at least a third of pregnant women, cut maternal deaths by half and newborn deaths by over a third.

Women’s groups are run and attended by women (and sometimes men), identifying their own strategies to address maternal and child health problems, mobilising local resources to deliver the strategies and then reviewing their own work before deciding what to do next. 

The outcomes of this type of participatory community capacity-building are likely to be sustainable when external funding ends, but the long-term effect of interventions or their sustainability are rarely investigated. This means that little is known about optimal times and methods to withdraw support, the capacities needed, and support mechanisms necessary for sustainability.

Mother and Infant Activities (MIRA), a Nepali NGO, established participatory women’s groups in rural Makwanpur, Nepal in 2001. Local woman were trained and paid to facilitate the groups and were supported by a MIRA supervisor.  In 2008, MIRA enacted a handover strategy when the project ran to the end of its funding. Twelve to eighteen months passed with no intervention, and we were interest to know what had happened to the groups.

Had they continued meeting and organising activities?

If they were still meeting, how had they sustained their activities?

If they had stopped meeting, why?

The result?

Eighty per cent of the women’s groups were still ‘active’ (groups who formally conduct meetings, work on strategies and keep meeting minutes). Anecdotal evidence suggests that these groups are still active to this day.


Local importance: Women had experienced how the groups improved maternal and newborn survival. This motivated them to continue meeting and enable the next generation to learn about how to look after themselves and their baby.

Financial independence: Many groups had established maternal and child health funds. Being able to save, and have some financial independence, attracted women to the group and motivated them to continue meeting. One woman told us: “When we save, we don’t have to depend on our husbands. We don’t have to beg for money.”  Many groups had increased their fund to support community activities unrelated to maternal and newborn health.

Leadership capacity: Active groups were led by a strong female community health volunteer or community leader. Or members themselves were confident in owning and leading the group. One group member said: “MIRA showed us the way. They showed us the right track, and we are now confident to walk that track. Because of this, the group is still running.”

Those groups who were not meeting, or meeting infrequently, felt that they had not been given enough time to reach the level of confidence and capacity necessary to continue activities and meetings. These groups told us they wanted more skill-based training: “If there would be [skill-based] training for the chairperson, treasurer, secretary on how to run the group, than we would have planned to do more.”

It is important to consider how interventions can continue after project support stops. In Makwanpur, the participatory nature of the group and being embedded in the community were not enough to sustain groups. They also needed leadership capacity, a unifying activity (such as the fund) and a strong belief in the value of their meeting to sustain.