International Women’s Day (IWD) 2017 encourages taking “groundbreaking action that truly drives the greatest change for women.” It seeks to encourage everybody, especially women, to be bold for change. And that is why this year’s IWD’s theme is “Be bold for change”.
As MamaYe is a campaign that encourages changing the story of maternal and newborn health from fatalism to hope and taking action to help pregnant women and newborns survive, we bring you the story of Sakeenah-Salvador Bakari, an inquisitive skilled birth attendant who took a bold step to learn the methods of the traditional birth attendants (TBAs).
Sakeenah-Salvador Bakari retired as Deputy Director, Health Education, Lagos State Civil Service. She is presently coordinator at Professor Ismail Balogun Foundation, Lagos, Nigeria.
Sakeenah sees “Be bold for Change” as the ability to confront issues and make a positive, sustainable impact.
In retirement, Sakeenah was perturbed by the rate of maternal and newborn mortality that wouldn’t go down. Rather than question the situation indefinitely, she took action by conducting a survey, targeting community people and health workers. The result of her survey painted a picture in which most maternal and newborn death guilt were tied around the necks of TBAs.
Sakeenah said, "religion sees maternal death as an act of God. People see it as something must kill someone some time, and the system is seeing it that ‘we’ve done our best’ but I thought that something was wrong and we needed to find what was wrong and correct it".
A thought then came to Sakeenah - although pregnant women were dying due to the activities of the TBAs, patronising the TBAs wouldn’t stop because of the belief attached to the efficacy of traditional medicine.
I needed to learn the ways of the TBAs myself. I needed to see what they were being taught and weigh it with what I know as a skilled birth attendant.
She then enrolled at the Lagos State Traditional Medicine Board, a government establishment that trains TBAs in line with the decision of the Lagos State government to engage the TBAs in the State’s health care system.
When Sakeenah wanted to join the training, the criterion was that she must be a TBA before she could participate. She approached a TBA, offered to pay 30,000 Naira for 60 hours to learn to become a TBA, and to also get a training certificate, which was another criterion.
“I learned a lot at the training. I discovered some of the traditional ways that attract pregnant women and their families to TBAs and traditional medicine, and I was convinced that it was important to involve well-trained TBAs in the health care system of Lagos State. This was a big, bold step and achievement for me,” Sakeenah said.
Sakeenah agrees that anyone that would be bold for change would face challenges. She said,
In my country, Nigeria, there are 2 major challenges that I face in being bold for change. The first is that I am a woman, and the other is corruption.
The society expects less activism from a woman and also believes that the place of a woman is in the kitchen and the bedroom, although things are changing gradually. Even though jokingly our president said it, it is the mindset of our people that the place of a woman is in the kitchen and in the bedroom. Then, the level of corruption has become "if you can’t beat them, you join them” and if you don’t join them, you’re anti social.”
Sakeenah preaches that the bold actions that she would like other people to take, to see a more inclusive, gender equal world, would be to improve on family values. “This has to start from the family. The change has to start from there. We differentiate between our sons and daughters. We bring up daughters to do all the chores. The society gives them lesser education than their male counterparts. While we give the boys the sense of being men who must be bold and be in charge, we teach our daughters to be soft and be high in tolerance. “We need to bring up our daughters and sons equally, make them realise that they are going to face the same challenges in life and will be equally responsible for their actions,” she said.