How empowering women can lead to healthy babies

Friday, 8 Jan 2016
The Shakti Varta has led to some tangible results for women and children in villages. For Arati and her husband Darasingh Pradhan, it meant the birth and survival of a healthy baby girl.

Since 2008, Options has been supporting the Government of Odisha in improving the health and nutritional status of its population, leading a DFID-funded programme of technical support. The programme has increased the availability of and access to quality essential health, WASH and nutrition services, targeting in particular the poorest people, those residing in rural areas in the state of Odisha.

Shakti Varta is an intervention for community processes that aims to improve maternal and newborn health and child nutrition and WASH practices by working with women’s self-help groups. To date, the Shakti Varta initiative has worked with more than 200,000 women’s self-help groups and reached around 20 million people, strengthening women’s empowerment for increased health, nutrition and sanitation outcomes

The Shakti Varta has led to some tangible results for women and children in villages. For Arati and her husband Darasingh Pradhan, it meant the birth and survival of a healthy baby girl.

Arati and Darasingh live in Gopalpur, a village located in the Loisingha block of Balangir District. Soon after their marriage in 2010, Arati lost her first new born after just seven days. Two years later, she lost another baby at four days old. Despite both births being normal deliveries ay the District Hospital, the doctor did not give a specific reason for the loss. Arati and Darasingh were devastated and it led to uncertainty and isolation within their community. The family thought she would be sterile for the rest of her life.

But she fell pregnant again. This time, she met Pravasini, an active Block Level Facilitator who set up the Shakti Varta initiative in Gopalpur and organised a series of participatory meetings in the community, supporting women’s groups to identify and prioritise their health problems and take action to address them. Arati and other members of a self-help group attended regularly.

Whilst attending the meetings, Arati learnt more about best practice during pregnancy. She became close to Pravasini, who was also pregnant at the time. Arati confided in her about her apprehensions and anxiety. Pravasini took care of Arati and consulted with the doctor at the community health centre, who advised Arati to have a caesarian section due to medical complications that may have caused the death of her earlier children. Arati’s mother in law was initially against the idea, but through counseling from Pravasini, she eventually agreed and gave her permission.

On 16 December 2014 Arati gave birth to a perfectly healthy baby girl at the district hospital. Thanks to increased awareness through the Shakti Varta, medical advice, timely antenatal services and supplementary food and medication, Arati’s daughter is growing up to be strong and healthy.

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