A great way to celebrate International Women’s Day is to take time to learn about the work being done by women and for women to advance their rights and health around the world! In honor of this international observance day, we spoke with our Charity Alliance member Amref Health Africa (Amref) to learn more about the central role women play in transforming health care in Africa.

With headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya, Amref is the largest Africa-based health care nonprofit, serving millions of people every year across 35 countries in sub-Saharan Africa. They train local health workers and provide health services to meet the dynamic and critical health needs of communities located south of the Sahara. Crucially, 97% of Amref’s global staff are African; they are always tackling African challenges with African expertise.

You may already be aware of Amref’s support of health care in Africa by their name alone, but what you may not know is that Amref centers women and girls in their work. With a holistic approach to health care, they ensure that women and girls in this region of Africa are safe and healthy their whole lives.

Here are five unique aspects to Amref’s work in bringing life-saving care to women in Africa:

A doctor examines a child held by their mother.

  1. Over 58% of the health workers Amref trained last year were women. Africa faces a critical shortage of health workers who can provide high quality health services for its growing population. This is why Amref has made training new and existing health workers at all levels – from community volunteers to midwives, nurses and doctors – the cornerstone of their work.  They prioritize training women in the health workforce because according to the World Health Organization, women health workers are concentrated in jobs that are low-wage or, often, unpaid, facing harsh realities of gender bias and harassment. Amref knows that strengthening women’s opportunities in health care can help empower women in all areas of life. To this end, in South Sudan, they established the Maridi Girls Secondary School for Science – a school for girls interested in pursuing a career in health to help build future generations of women in the health workforce.
    An Amref worker.
  2. They are training Water Artisans to reduce the 40 billion hours a year women spend collecting water in sub-Saharan Africa. Amref trains local women as “Water Artisans” to build water infrastructure such as wells using local, readily available materials to bring clean water directly to their communities, eliminating the need to walk far distances. They also ensure that Water Artisans can manage, build and repair the infrastructure themselves, long after the organization has left.  Reducing the amount of time that women in rural areas spend collecting water each day significantly increases their employment opportunities. Additionally, Water Artisans can be hired by nearby communities to build more local wells, providing them with another avenue to generate income. To further ensure the sustainability of the wells built, Amref trains water committees made up of women in the community to manage the use, finances and cleanliness of the infrastructures built. A woman speaks to a group of women in a community.
  3. Amref is working to end female genital mutilation (FGM) through community dialogue and local champions. In Kenya, harmful traditional practices like female genital mutilation (FGM) and child, early and forced marriages (CEFM) are still upheld by many rural communities, despite being outlawed by the government. Amref recognizes that in order to bring long-lasting change to centuries-old traditions, change must come from the communities themselves.  They help spark this change through the USAID-funded Koota Injena initiative, which promotes the use of community dialogue to end FGM and CEFM. Through Koota Injena, Amref identifies champions (male or female from any age group) in the community who are willing to stand up against FGM and CEFM and provides them with training to help their peers, family and friends re-envision how women and girls are treated, and understand why their rights should be respected and education completed. Amref educates champions on the consequences of FGM and CEFM and teaches them techniques to hold productive discussions between different groups who might have opposing views, particularly respected elders who can help ensure the abandonment of these practices. Two students do classwork together.
  4. Scholarships are helping at-risk young women access a brighter future. To further support girls at risk of FGM and CEFM, Amref created a scholarship program to help girls complete their education and become the women they want to be. The scholarship covers each girl’s annual school fees, academic materials, uniforms, bedding and boarding necessities, and more. They also cover “Dignity Kits” that contain supplies like sanitary pads, underwear, soap and other hygiene items, and provide training to become anti-FGM and CEFM ambassadors in their communities. Through the scholarship, girls also receive training on life skills (like problem solving, critical thinking, effective communication, decision-making, creative thinking, interpersonal relationships, and management of stress and emotions), reproductive health education, advocacy, and public speaking, and are mentored by Amref staff on a regular basis.A young girl speaks into a megaphone with her fist raised.
  5. Amref’s Youth in Action initiative is helping young women advocate for gender equality in East Africa. In Kenya, almost 75% of the population is under the age of 30 and the number of youth between 15-34 years old is anticipated to grow from 17 million to 24 million by 2050. This large and growing proportion of young people brings new health, economic and equity challenges, but also provides an opportunity to strengthen and organize young people’s voices to have an informed and effective role in addressing those challenges. Amref’s Youth in Action (Y-ACT) initiative mentors, supports and trains youth advocates to influence policies in the areas of gender equality and sexual and reproductive health and rights at national and grassroots levels.   In its first two years, Y-ACT has created an online network of over 3,000 young people and over 750 youth advocacy organizations across Kenya to advance their policies; contributed to the creation of a new Kenyan Youth Policy, which calls for youth participation in policymaking bodies; and trained youth advocates, mostly female, from 51 youth-led organizations in four regions across Kenya.

Join Amref Health Africa in celebrating International Women’s Day this year. Here are a few suggestions of ways to get involved:

  • Support Amref’s International Women’s Day #HERstory campaign. Share your stories about groundbreaking women you know using #HERstory and tag @amrefusa on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Learn more about the campaign and how you can help Amref support women who are changing their communities every day.
  • Does your company want to feature Amref in an upcoming workplace event? Contact us for ideas on how Amref can share their work with your employees and get them involved.
  • Subscribe to Amref’s newsletter so you don’t miss any of their updates.