"My aim for 2018 is to reach as many women as I can who don't have access to family planning."
This International Women’s Day, Marie Stopes International is celebrating the extraordinary courage and determination of the countless women worldwide who are quietly but steadily pushing for change within their communities.
Women like Julienne and Arlette from Burkina Faso in West Africa, who through their work as Marie Stopes Ladies are empowering women and girls in their community to make free, informed decisions about their future.
In Burkina Faso, a woman dies from pregnancy-related complications every three hours. Yet despite these risks, women are often prohibited by men from making decisions about their own healthcare, including whether to use contraception.
"They are determined to do what they can to make women's lives better."
In the face of stigma and opposition from community and religious leaders, Marie Stopes Ladies like Julienne and Arlette offer women a lifeline. Qualified midwives and nurses from the local community, each day they climb on their trusty mopeds and ride out to visit women in their villages and even their homes to offer advice and a full range of contraceptive options.
Julienne explains: “The women I serve are not the kind who worry about what kind of moisturiser to use to get a nice glow. They are submissive women who don’t have the last word in their households. Women chained to a grim fate, who live entirely for their children.”
Living and working alongside the women in their community, Julienne and Arlette see the suffering that the lack of information and access to family planning cause. They are determined to do what they can to make women’s lives better.
“The story that really stays with me is a 13-year-old girl called Doris,” says Julienne. “Her mum was one of my clients and accompanied her to receive a family planning method. Despite being illiterate, she understood the importance of family planning for her daughter. Her one wish was that her daughter’s life would be better than hers.”
Contrary to the myth that women in Africa do not want contraception, Julienne and Arlette witness first-hand the lengths that women will go to, in order to gain control of their bodies and their futures.
Arlette recalls: “A 26-year-old mother of four heard about Marie Stopes on the radio and walked 44km to get to a health centre just to find out when our team would be passing. Fortunately, I was providing services that day and she was able to choose the method that was close to her heart.
“My aim for 2018 is to reach as many women as I can who don’t have access to family planning.”
I tell myself that the lives of women and children depend on me, and that motivates me more than anything.
In January 2017, President Trump re-enacted the Global Gag Rule, a US policy which bars organisations including Marie Stopes International from receiving US funding for our work providing family planning. In Burkina Faso, this loss of funding has put a number of projects at risk of closure, including the work of the Marie Stopes Ladies.
“If our funding ran out, it would cause real suffering,” said Julienne. “The birth rate would increase, women’s life expectancy would decrease and the mortality rate of children under two would rise.”
However, having fought for the women in their community all their lives, Julienne and Arlette remain undeterred.
“I tell myself that the lives of women and children depend on me,” says Julienne, “and that motivates me more than anything.”