Reaching out to Malawis rural families

Thomson Reuters Foundation - Mon, 27 Feb 2012 18:07 GMT
Author: Joyce Banda
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Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Joyce Banda is vice-president of Malawi and a member of the Global Leaders Council for Reproductive Health at the Aspen Institute. The opinions expressed are her own.

As we approach International Women’s Day, I am re-committing myself to fight for the rights and the needs of rural families.

All over the world, but especially in Africa, rural women face special challenges. Women are the backbone of food production - they are farmers, they are business people, and they are care givers.  

Yet, rural women are more likely to experience chronic hunger and malnutrition, and often lack of access to basic health care and education.

Today 80 percent of the people of Malawi live in rural areas.  

Although I was brought up in town, my grandmother insisted that I learn the ways of my ancestral village – each week I traveled to my village, and I learned the most important lesson of all – that education and health care are the essential building blocks for a healthy nation.

In my village I saw the difference that education and health care can make. My best friend Chrissie was caught by the cycle of early marriage, early motherhood and poverty.  

She was smarter than I was – she had better grades – but her family could not afford the $6 needed for secondary school.  I could not help Chrissie, but I saw how $6 changed Chrissie’s life.  

She stayed in our village, she married young, and today she is still there. Through my foundation, Chrissie works with me to make sure that all children, but especially girls have educational and economic opportunities.

Chrissie’s experience taught me that all women need access to education and health care including family planning.

That is why Malawi has made assuring universal access to family planning a priority and it is why I am part of the Global Leaders Council for Reproductive Health. I believe it is time to stop just talking about universal access to family planning and reproductive health – and do something about it.

One of my earliest efforts to support women was starting the National Association of Business Women where we provided family planning information and services - we saw clearly how it saved lives and made good economic sense.  

The Global Leaders Council for Reproductive Health believes that access to family planning is a basic right.  As a mother, as a survivor of a maternal health complication, and as a female political leader, I will do everything I can to make sure that all women have access to family planning information, services and supplies.  

I want all young women and girls to live and reach their full potential - I want every woman and every child to be healthy and safe.

I ask all leaders to join me - together we can create a better world for all women, their families, and their nations.