Hearing midwives’ voices: International Women's Day 2021

By Joy Kemp, Professional Advisor Global on 08 March 2021 Global midwifery Research

Midwives’ voices are often absent from international, national or local policy dialogue. In Bangladesh, where midwifery is a new profession and all midwives are young women and therefore doubly disadvantaged because of their age and gender, it can be difficult for them to raise their voices.

Since 2017, the Royal College of Midwives (RCM), through a twinning partnership funded by UNFPA, has been working to strengthen the voice of the Bangladesh Midwifery Society BMS), enabling it to be a mouthpiece for the voice of all midwives in Bangladesh. Professional midwives’ associations have a key role in enabling midwives’ voices to be heard and in advocating for midwives, for the profession of midwifery and for high quality, respectful maternity care for all women and their families.

Enhancing BMS’ capacity for advocacy has been a key theme of the twinning project, along with young midwife leader development. Back in 2017, the RCM facilitated an ‘introduction to advocacy’ workshop with BMS, refining the messages important for their advocacy strategy and identifying the stakeholders who should hear these messages. This was followed with more advocacy training with local facilitators. Three cohorts of young Bangladeshi midwife leaders have been developed, with communication and advocacy skills at the heart of the programme. Gender awareness, working with media, digital and English language skills have also been explored.

These young midwife leaders are now raising their voices, whether in new roles at policy level, in negotiating for better care and employment conditions in their workplaces, and in reflecting the views and needs of the association’s membership. The COVID-19 pandemic, while immensely challenging, has offered further opportunity for development in digital communication, working with new stakeholders and responding to the needs of members through a telephone helpline and in the provision of personal protective and other equipment, distributed throughout Bangladesh by the network of young midwife leaders.

Karima Akter is one of the first cohort of midwives trained in Bangladesh and also in the first cohort of young midwife leaders. She was voted as Secretary of the BMS in 2018 and has played a key role in the COVID-19 response. Recently appointed to the position of Midwifery Officer within the Directorate General of Nursing and Midwifery, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare in Bangladesh, Karima is the first midwife to be appointed to such a position at national level.

She has also won an award from the Asia Pacific Alliance on Human Resources for Health, in recognition of her contribution to the raising the profile of the profession of midwifery within Bangladesh, and in supporting BMS’s members through the most challenging of circumstances, including a global pandemic. For International Women’s Day 2021, Karima joined a panel convened by UN Bangladesh alongside the Honourable Speaker of the Bangladesh National Parliament.

On this International Women’s Day, the RCM chooses to pay tribute to the Bangladesh Midwifery Society, to Karima and her fellow young midwife leaders and to all midwives in Bangladesh for raising their voices and making a difference in the world. We salute you.