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International Women's Day: Celebrating women around the world

by Martha Holley Newsome, President and CEO | Mar 08, 2018

Bangladesh, Martha and Fatima, 2018 (4)
Medical Teams International President and CEO Martha Holley Newsome meets with women at a health clinic in the Kutupalong refugee camp in Bangladesh.

Today, we celebrate International Women’s Day, a particularly fitting day not only to pause and reflect, but to act. 

Gender inequality continues to be one of most pervasive human rights issues of our time, and despite strides made to close the gender gap, there is still no country on earth where women have achieved economic parity with men. Women are woefully underrepresented in government as only one in four parliamentarians are women worldwide. Even worse is the fact that one in three women will experience violence in their lifetime. 

When we lift women up and give them equal footing – whether it’s knowledge or employment opportunities or health care – entire communities rise. As the "Times Up" and #MeToo movements have shown us here in the U.S., no country is free of gender-based inequality. But in developing countries, this cycle of suffering results in preventable deaths.

Right now, we have the profound opportunity to stand with women around the world who are breaking barriers and remind them they aren’t alone. Please take a bold stand with us and choose to support women who need our action.

In places of disaster and conflict, it’s the women and girls who bear the greatest brunt of injustice. From the womb to the tomb, their stories make up a litany of discrimination and obstacles. More than two-thirds of the world’s refugees are women and children. By the time this day is over, 830 women will have died from preventable causes related to childbirth and pregnancy, according to the World Health Organization. More than half of the world’s poor children live in women-headed households. 

You are changing this. 

Today we applaud the courageous women around the globe who are committed to improving the lives of those in their communities. I’ve met some of these women in the places Medical Teams works. Their strength and convictions moved me. In the rural foothills of Guatemala, I walked alongside women we trained to help bring babies into this world safely. In Bangladesh, I sat with female Community Health Workers, refugees we trained to educate their neighbors on the importance of vaccinations and disease prevention.    

We know that women are usually the ones who respond first in a crisis, who sacrifice everything to provide for their children, and who play a key role in the survival of their families and the resilience of their communities. That’s why in all we do, we partner with women to help them both realize their God-given potential and assume leadership roles. 

Community Health Workers


In settlements in Lebanon, Bangladesh, and Uganda, refugee women are looking for ways to keep their communities healthy. In Bangladesh, one of these volunteers is a young woman named Yasmin, who dreams of one day becoming a teacher. Bright, dedicated, and bursting with potential, Yasmin loves serving her neighbors. “I want to help others with the education I do have – being a Community Health Worker allows me to do that.” 

Providing women in Uganda with nutritional support for their children

Uganda, Brenda and Sabrina - malnutrition and malaria, 2017 (12) 

Imagine spending days walking through the countryside, scared and hungry, your children clinging to your side. For South Sudanese refugees, this is a common story. Around 80 percent of all refugees in Uganda are women and children, many of them severely malnourished. In settlements throughout Uganda, we identify women with severely malnourished children, like mom Brenda and baby Sabrina pictured above. At this settlement in northern Uganda, Brenda received nutritious food and malaria medicine for her sick baby.

Support for pregnant women

Guatemala, Sheridan - Irma for PW, June 2016 (8)

In Guatemala, indigenous women are at a significant disadvantage. They are twice as likely to die during childbirth as non-indigenous women. Women like Irma, pictured above, don't have health resources available to them. It's difficult for women like Irma to receive the check ups necessary to identify potential complications. In Irma's case, health promoters with Medical Teams International determined that Irma, pregnant with twins, was at risk of a breech birth. But with the help of nurses and midwives, Irma successfully gave birth to two adorable babies.  

Traditional Midwives 


No child or woman should die during childbirth. Yet it happens far too often in Haiti, where young women regularly give birth at home without supervision. Haiti has the highest infant mortality rate in the Western Hemisphere. We've worked to empower women in rural Haiti by training midwives and educating pregnant women. After 23-year-old Altinise, pictured above in pink, gave birth to her baby girl, she started bleeding. She was shivering and dizzy, and the bleeding wouldn't stop. That’s when a birth attendant, trained by Medical Teams International, stepped up and put her knowledge to work. That birth attendant was also Altinise's mother, Jaqueline, who used an abdominal massage technique to lessen the bleeding and save her daughter's life.
Right now, we have the profound opportunity to stand with women around the world who are breaking barriers and remind them they aren’t alone. Please take a bold stand with us and choose to support women who need our action.

We believe every day is International Women's Day. Our Healthy Women, Healthy World initiative mobilizes women here in the U.S. to be agents of change around the world by promoting and advocating for women's health issues.