Below is a blog written by Jennifer Reiter, Sexual Health Projects Co-ordinator at MBARC. I manage this blog and have written many of the entries but because this one is particularly personal to me, I wanted to state this upfront before the entry begins.
On the morning of Thursday, June 21, all of the young people and mentors, teachers and professionals attending the Human Rights Olympics witnessed what many would say was the most powerful and moving presentation of the conference, that by Mary Fjerstad, NP, MHS of WomanCare Global. Mary is a midwife by training and is currently the Director of Medical Affairs and Pharmacovigilance at WomanCare Global. I have so enjoyed getting to know Chris Hicks, Sales Director at WomanCare Global and his and the company’s commitment to women’s reproductive rights around the world (the company generously provided funding support to get MBARC staff and our UK Sex Factor gold-winning delegates to this conference) and I was blown away by Mary’s impassioned presentation.
She started out by asking us to imagine a world where women had full potential to contribute to society. She compared the risk of dying from pregnancy in a lifetime between a 15-year-old girl in Africa (1 in 6) and a 15-year-old girl in Sweden (1 in 48,000). She shared a heartbreaking story of a mother in Kenya walking a half-day to a clinic to get injectable contraception only to find out the clinic had none in stock. This woman became pregnant in the meantime and during this pregnancy, began bleeding and eventually died because her nearest clinician did not have access to the instruments that could have saved her life. We learned that this was not an isolated incident in low-resource countries – women would walk hours to get to their nearest clinic and would often not be able to get the contraception and care that they wanted and needed. WomanCare Global produces a number of devices and products that save lives, and that could have saved this woman’s life if the clinic had had stock.
As I looked round the conference room, I could see all the young people rapt with attention. They hung on to every word that Mary spoke. I’ve been volunteering and working in reproductive rights since I was the age of many of the young people in the room but these statistics and stories still brought tears to my eyes. We watched the video ‘The Girl Effect’ which showed in striking picture detail the devastating effects of living in poverty on girls. We learned that 1,000 women around the world die every day from preventable pregnancy-related complications.
Mary shared to shocking effect the difference in pregnancy, birth and family life can be due to financial and familial support. Contrasted were the positive support of a particular story of a birth in an Amish family in the U.S. and the negative environment that a baby may be born into in a particular area of Guatemala where domestic violence against mothers is rife. She further illustrated this discussion by re-enacting a time she had to shout down the corridor of a hospital for help when trying to save a woman’s life who was bleeding to death.
One of the most memorable quotes from Mary’s presentation was that, “Women will risk their lives to have the baby they want, and will risk their lives not to have a baby they feel they can’t have.” This statement again brought tears to my eyes and I’m sure to the eyes of many people in the room.
The presentation ended with Mary calling on everyone to be a warrior – with love, not hatred in their hearts – in their own communities and wherever they work. When women are able to have children by choice, not chance, they are empowered, families flourish and communities prosper. When she finished speaking, every single person stood up in the room to give her a standing ovation. I have no doubt that many of these young people will now be spurred on to investigate and work in reproductive rights in their own countries and in developing countries, and address the poverty and lack of education that devastates women and thus their families in low-resource countries as well, all thanks to the incredible inspiration of warrior-with-love Mary Fjerstad.