Reproductive Healthcare in SenegalThe country of Senegal has made major strides over the past 10 years for access and care in women’s reproductive and maternal health. Here are some initiatives and four recent centers that have opened to provide women with reproductive healthcare in Senegal in both rural and urban settings.

Reproductive Healthcare Barriers for Senegalese Women

Senegal’s healthcare system is not free to the public. If one does not have the funds to pay for their needed care, they are refused treatment. With more than 50% of Senegal’s population in poverty, only 32.5% of births are performed with a healthcare professional, making the maternal death rate one in 61 women.

Senegalese women are averaged to have at least four children, which is often a result of early forced marriage and the patriarchal family structure. Young women are limited from attaining an education, inhibiting their ability to gain knowledge and power over their reproductive and maternal health.

Over 77% of Senegalese women who desire sexual contraception such as birth control, do not have access to that resource. This has led to unplanned pregnancies for women 20 years old and younger. Additionally, most young women do not receive sexual education in school or at home. This results in less than a third of women in Senegal having a comprehensive understanding of HIV/AIDs or how to protect themselves from such diseases. Government initiation and non-profit organizations are improving these statistics. More women in Senegal are receiving resources and education for their reproductive healthcare.

The Maputo Protocol

Before the 2000s, there was no access to national government or international organizations’ reproductive health for Senegalese women. In 2005 Senegal signed the agreement of the African Charter of Human Rights and Rights of Women, known as the Maputo Protocol, declaring Senegalese women’s reproductive health to be a “universal human right” that must be protected. Following the Maputo Protocol, the Senegalese healthcare system began providing contraception as well as pregnancy and STI testing for women over the age of 15.

4 Centers and Initiatives for Women’s Reproductive Healthcare in Senegal

  1. Keur Djiguene Yi Center: The Keur Djuguene Yi Center is the first public OBGYN clinic in Dakar, Senegal that provides complete reproductive and maternal care to women who cannot afford or have access to government-provided healthcare options. Opening its doors in 2017 with the help of Dr. Faye, the lead gynecologist on-site, more women than ever before in Senegal now have access to pre and post-natal exams, “education on contraception, HIV prevention, family planning and infant immunization,” free of cost. Dr. Faye has been consciously expanding on the center, adding another full-time gynecologist in 2019. She hopes to expand the center to operate at full capacity with an entire team of OBGYN professionals to help four times the number of patients the Keur Djiguene Yi Center services currently.

  1. VOICES mHealth Program: The World Health Organization partnered with the Voices project, created an initiative for reproductive and maternal awareness in Senegal. The VOICEmHealth Program uses voice messages to spread the word about openings of women’s healthcare centers as well as education on maternal care and child-feeding practices. The project works with Bajenu Gox, known as “community godmothers,” to extend the amount of knowledge and power for young women through home visits and information on their healthcare during and after their pregnancy to reach women who do not have access to a cellular device. Voices mHealth program is a highly effective project in its ability to have immediate, trusted contact with Senegalese women living in both rural and urban communities.

  1. Le Korsa: Le Korsa is a nonprofit organization that empowers communities and healthcare centers in Senegal to improve their provided healthcare with grants and educational resources. One of the organization’s most impactful recent projects was in 2017 when Le Korsa began the renovation of the Tambacounda Hospital’s Maternity and Pediatric Units. The project is expected to finish in 2021, providing more enhanced and comfortable care to the 47,000 annual visitors.

  1. Bajenu Gox Project — Action Et Developpement: The Action Et Developpement organization in Senegal has made major strides in having increased community inclusion and education on women’s healthcare with a global lense. Partnering with the Bajenu Gox of the Kaolack, Fatick, Saint Louis, Louga and Dakar regions in 2015, the Bajenu Gox project has brought new, needed knowledge to rural and urban Senegal. The Bajenu Gox in these locations are now trained on how to talk about the prevention of  STI’s and HIV/AIDs in their local communities. They are bringing a new wave of education to young women and forever changing the empowerment of women in Senegal through awareness of their rights.

With the remarkable breakthroughs in women’s reproductive healthcare in Senegal, women now have access to centers and initiatives. The foundation for a new perspective, action and approach towards the autonomy of a women’s health and reproductive system in Senegal is now able to grow and flourish.

– Nicolettea Daskaloudi

Photo: Flickr

In some areas of Africa and the Middle East, girls and women are subjected to the horrors of female genital mutilation. The World Health Organization defines FGM as “procedures that intentionally alter or cause injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.” FGM is typically performed on young girls, from infancy to age 15, and provides no health benefit. Instead, it can result in a variety of complications, such as severe bleeding, cysts, infections and infertility. Later in life, it can lead to problems with childbirth and increased risk of infant mortality. The procedure is often performed by traditional “circumcisers” in the community, but even health care providers have carried out FGM.

FGM is recognized as a human rights violation against girls and women, yet it continues for a number of reasons. Community and religious leaders may uphold the practice due to “cultural tradition,” and families may have girls undergo the procedure because of social pressure to conform to these traditions. FGM is also used as a tool to discourage girls from having premarital sex because many believe it reduces their libido.

Approximately 125 million girls and women worldwide have undergone FGM. FGM is most widespread in Africa, where it is estimated that three million girls are at risk annually.

In Sierra Leone, about 90 percent of women have undergone FGM. Women in this country are often subject to a particularly crude operation with razor blades or broken glass, carried out by elderly women who have been specifically designated by community leaders as circumcisers. FGM is part of an initiation ceremony, intended to prepare girls for marriage and motherhood. It is has been exceptionally difficult to prove to the people of Sierra Leone that this strongly held tradition is harmful. Furthermore, the country is home to numerous women’s societies with strong political power that still support the practice. The outlook may seem bleak for the women of Sierra Leone, but the nation has recently taken an important step towards ending FGM.

In early July, Sierra Leone’s government ratified the Maputo Protocol, which is intended to protect women’s rights in Africa. It addresses a variety of areas, such as political participation, protection of women in armed conflicts, girl’s access to education, economic and social welfare rights, reproductive health rights, and land rights. But the main objective of the Maputo Protocol is eliminating FGM in Africa. Sierra Leone has not banned the practice, but the ratification is a crucial first step towards doing so, as it shows an official political commitment to gender equality for the country.

Other groups are working to change attitudes towards FGM in Sierra Leone. Amnesty International’s Africa Human Rights Education Program has successfully helped communities such as the Chiefdom of Masungdala to ban FGM. Those fighting FGM must work to reach everyone in society to effectively enforce a ban, and it will take time to completely eradicate the practice, but the future is looking more promising for the women of Sierra Leone.

– Jane Harkness

Sources: Amnesty International, Equality Now, Huffington Post, WHO 1, WHO 2
Photo: Flickr