For the past 14 years, Madame Badji has dedicated her life to helping moms and babies survive and thrive.
“Being a midwife is a noble job,” she says enthusiastically, adding that since she was young she always aspired to work in the medical field.
“The dream has come true because I am a midwife to assist pregnant women.”
Working in rural Senegal, Madame Badji says many women and girls face a number of challenges to accessing quality care at health facilities, including shortages of skilled staff and of medical equipment at health centers. In addition, traditional gender norms can be a barrier to accessing healthcare because men are often the primary decision makers in their households, even when it comes to women’s health.
Did you know?
- Complications related to pregnancy and childbirth are the leading cause of death for girls age 15 to 19.
- Approximately 2.7 million newborn babies die every year.
“Women often wait for their husbands’ approval before visiting the health facilities,” she says. “They are not empowered or independent. They are always obliged to ask their husbands.”
To help overcome these challenges and remove the barriers that keep many women and girls from exercising their rights to healthcare, Plan International Canada is implementing a project in Madame Badji’s community focusing on changing the birth story.
As part of this project, we’re training health workers, providing medical supplies, as well as empowering women and adolescent girls to access information and services related to sexual and reproductive health, and most importantly, their right to access those resources.
A typical day at the clinic
Between antenatal checkups, delivering babies and educating adolescents about sexual and reproductive health and rights, Madame Badji’s days at the clinic are often jam-packed and filled with surprise.
She recalls one evening when she was working the night shift.
“I delivered about 15 babies that day within a 24 hour period,” she says. “I am the most proud when I give assistance to pregnant women at risk and assist them through delivery.”
When it comes to supporting adolescents, Madame Badji says that Plan International Canada’s project has helped train healthcare workers like herself to be more sensitive to the unique needs of adolescents, especially girls.
“I have learnt a lot about working with adolescents and youth,” she says. “Being an adolescent is an important stage in life. If they don’t know how to behave and how diseases are transmitted, anything can happen to them.”
Madame Badji says that adolescents often come in with fake symptoms as an excuse to seek help, adding that they’re timid to tell the truth about whether they’re sexually active or not. In many communities in Senegal, health workers often shun sexually active adolescents, sometimes refusing to offer treatment or judging them harshly.
“They are generally shy to say what they come for. When they say they have bellyache; I just guess and know it’s about STD. Then, I do counseling,” she says. “With the project, we have identified a space where teenagers can have more privacy for information.”
Challenging gendered expectations
In Madame Badji’s community, men are expected to be the breadwinners for their families, but Madame Badji does not subscribe to this belief as she provides for her family and her husband takes care of the kids.
“My husband is very proud of me,” she says.
Another norm in Madame Badji’s community is that men aren’t expected to consult their wives when it comes to family planning. They’re also not expected to accompany their wives for antenatal checkups or be there to offer support during delivery.
To challenge these norms, Madame Badji says health staff have an important role to play in educating men and making clinics more welcoming for them.
“The main challenge for men is the lack of communication from health staff,” she says. “Whenever I receive some of them at the health facility and give them information, they always say if all midwives were as friendly as I am, they would not be reluctant to visit the health facilities for health care.”
Along with Father’s Clubs, more men in the community are learning about the importance of supporting their wives before, during and after childbirth. In addition, they’re learning how to be equal and engaged partners who will do their part in raising their children long after the birthing experience has passed.
“There is a great change in terms of behavior, because some husbands attend their wives’ antenatal visits now. They also come when their wives are in labor.”
Girls and women can do anything
Through the project, girls and women in Madame Badji’s community are not only learning about their rights to health and education but also they’re being empowered to take charge of their lives and defy norms.
When asked what her wish for the future was, Madame Badji says:
“I wish for a long and healthy life … If I become President, I wish to have strength and power to manage the State’s affairs.”
Then she smiles confidently.
“Why not? Of course a woman can be President … Women are educated and broadminded. They have the required skills to be President.”
change the birth story
Plan International and local partners have and continue to help train nurses, midwives, and other health workers, such as Madame Badji, on a large diversity of important skills, including prenatal care, management of childhood and neonatal illnesses, emergency obstetric and neonatal care, provision of sexual and reproductive services and family planning counseling.
This training empowers health workers to adapt their attitudes and behaviours to provide respectful care to their patients.
If you believe that everyone has a role to play in changing the birth story then sign your name below.
I stand with Canada to change the birth story because I believe that every adolescent girl, woman and child has the right to be healthy and to live a life free of discrimination.