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These Ordinary Women Are Making An Extraordinary Difference To Healthcare In UP

Their stories are truly inspiring.

02/03/2017 1:36 PM IST | Updated 03/03/2017 8:47 AM IST
Eric Meola

In Uttar Pradesh, the sheer scale of its population of 200 million makes it truly daunting to ensure quality healthcare to each and every citizen. At the National Health Mission, Uttar Pradesh (NHM-UP), we have been working for over a decade to do just that, and if there is one thing we have learned, it is that no better catalyst exists for change on the ground than empowered and informed citizens getting involved in their own communities, taking ownership of the change we seek to achieve.

Their commitment to serving some of our most vulnerable populations has helped pregnant women, adolescent girls and young children receive the health services they so desperately require.

UP's women have been central to this process, helping to expand public access to healthcare across the state. They have played perhaps the most critical role at the community level, where their commitment to serving some of our most vulnerable populations has helped pregnant women, adolescent girls and young children receive the health services they so desperately require. This is no small feat. Their achievements stand out against the backdrop of persistent societal restraints, which have long presented challenge after challenge to women who wish to work and establish for themselves a sense of independence within their homes and communities.

I recently attended an event marking National Girl Child Day, which takes place on the 24th of January every year. There I participated in a discussion on the role community health workers can play in upholding the rights of the girl child and ensuring that each and every girl is given access to comprehensive education, good healthcare and equal opportunity. There were a number of very inspiring stories of women who overcame significant hurdles to pursue social change and better health for their communities with unwavering determination. Their success is success for us all, so I'd like to share some of their stories with you today.

Take, for example, the tenacity of Mohini, an Anganwadi worker from Sitapur. Abandoned by her husband for not bearing a son, Mohini raised three girls on her own while also working to ensure that every girl child in her village received adequate nutrition and was enrolled in school. Mohini believes that with a solid education and a healthy start to life, a girl child can achieve anything.

Their achievements stand out against the backdrop of persistent societal restraints, which have long presented challenge after challenge to women...

Then there is the courage of women like Nadira, an ASHA worker and a single mother in Sidhauli, who divides her time between building awareness around health among her neighbours and caring for her seven children. She also started a small family sewing business with her eldest son which gives her enough financial support to ensure that all her children study through graduation. Nadira hopes that her story can show other women like her that it is possible to overcome great challenges to lead a productive and meaningful life.

I feel especially optimistic when I hear stories from young women like 18-year-old Poonam, who through perseverance and hard work reached her goal of attending university in Lucknow while standing up to create an easier path for others like her. Poonam works as a peer educator for the NGO Vatsalya, speaking to girls in the community about domestic violence, child marriage and their civil rights. She is studying to become a teacher so she can bring quality education to her community.

And finally, there is Poonam Singh, a gram pradhan in Hardoi. Poonam does not hesitate to go the extra mile to ensure that people in her community are able to avail of health care services. She works closely with local ASHAs, Anganwadi workers and Auxiliary Nurse Midwives (ANMs), providing them the support they need to improve the health and nutrition of their community. Still in her early 20s, she is smashing stereotypes, proving that women can be capable leaders at every level of government. Poonam believes that real leaders lead by example, and represent their people by persistently working to improve their health and well-being.

Their example will help shape the future of UP, and it must, if we are to see true progress in human development, health and welfare in this state.

These are extraordinary women, who have done so much to improve the quality of life of not just those in their own families but in their entire communities. Their presence as role models is essential towards the health, well-being and empowerment of India's adolescent girls, a population of over 110 million, the largest in the world. This is a population that still grapples with issues such as a lack of control over their physical, social and economic well-being, is vulnerable to early marriage, violence and suffers from a lack of awareness about the services and facilities available to them to take charge of their own lives. It is for this reason that the NHM has undertaken the Meri Sehat, Mera Nirnay initiative to educate adolescent girls.

The women who inspire us by through acts of courage and conviction light the way for all who want to make a difference in their own lives, their family or in society at large. Their example will help shape the future of UP, and it must, if we are to see true progress in human development, health and welfare in this state.

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