Advancing Gender Equality In and Through Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights

© Robin Wyatt/EngenderHealth

At EngenderHealth, we know that gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls are not possible without the realization of sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR). That is why we work to expand access to SRHR services and information in multiple countries around the world — to ensure equal rights, resources, responsibilities, and opportunities.

As a leading global health organization, we strive to achieve gender equality both in and through SRHR by integrating a gender-transformative approach across all our programs. We acknowledge the disadvantages and discrimination that women and girls face in exercising their SRHR, and we tackle the gender-, age-, and power-related barriers that deny them these rights through SRHR programs that ensure equity.

2020 marks 25 years since world leaders adopted the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action — the most comprehensive blueprint for women’s equality in history. To commemorate this anniversary, we look at six areas of our SRHR work and how they are helping to advance gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls.

Contraceptive Counseling and Services

Women and girls who have voluntary access to and are knowledgeable about contraception are more likely to avoid health risks associated with early and multiple pregnancies, continue their education, and participate in the formal economy.

EngenderHealth applies a rights-based approach to our sexual and reproductive health initiatives by ensuring that individuals can access and have information about a broad range of contraceptives. As a result, our programming prioritizes integrating contraceptive services into health systems and expanding access to reliable, long-acting contraception.

One example is our Access to Better Reproductive Health Initiative (ABRI) in Ethiopia, which has increased the number of health facilities providing contraceptive services by more than ten-fold. To date, the project has reached over 13 million individuals with contraceptive information and has contributed to increasing the modern contraceptive prevalence rate from 37.1% in 2009 to 48.9% in 2019.

Maternal Health Care

Every day, roughly 800 women die from pregnancy- or childbirth-related complications. Those who survive obstructed labor or receive unsafe surgery (particularly cesarean section) may suffer from devastating injuries like obstetric fistula, a hole between the birth canal and bladder and/or rectum that causes incontinence, a socially-isolating condition.

Since 2005, a major focus of EngenderHealth’s maternal health work has been treatment and prevention of obstetric fistula. We prioritize fistula prevention through voluntary family planning, skilled delivery training, and messaging to delay pregnancy. Because most fistulas can be repaired, we also support women to access treatment services and help women reintegrate into society after they recover.

Through our Fistula Care Plus (FC+) project and other programming, we have supported over 44,300 fistula repairs and trained over 31,000 health providers in fistula prevention and treatment across 15 countries. Currently, FC+ is operating in Niger, Mozambique, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Adolescent and Youth SRHR

When girls and young women do not have bodily autonomy, they are at heightened risk for early pregnancy, low levels of education, poverty, and potentially fatal complications from unsafe abortion, pregnancy, and childbirth.

EngenderHealth incorporates a comprehensive adolescent and youth lens across our program design that is grounded in the principles of gender equality and social inclusion. We reach young people with sexual and reproductive health (SRH) programming to ensure they have control over their bodies and futures.

As part of our long-standing Adolescent Health and Development (AHDP) project in India, we have partnered with the Government of Bihar to provide adolescents with SRH information and services, increasing the use of adolescent-friendly SRH services and reaching over 16,000 adolescents.

Gender-Based Violence Prevention and Support

Gender-based violence (GBV) is one of the most widespread human rights violations in the world, with an estimated one in three women experiencing sexual or physical abuse within their lifetime. Individuals who experience GBV may suffer from forced and unwanted pregnancies, unsafe abortions, traumatic fistula, sexually transmitted infections (including HIV), and even death.

EngenderHealth delivers trainings and creates culturally-specific intervention and prevention programming on GBV, including engaging men and boys. We also help to develop policy guidelines on the standardization of GBV response services and enable health providers to recognize, screen for, and document GBV incidents.

As part of our GIR’ITEKA (“Be Respected”) project in Burundi, for example, we are assisting local organization SWAA-Burundi to tackle gender norms and institutionalize high-quality care and treatment for GBV survivors, including integrating such care into broader sexual and reproductive health and HIV services.

Comprehensive Abortion Care and Information

Without the ability to make decisions about their bodies and reproductive functions, many women and girls resort to unsafe abortion, which accounts for roughly 13% of all maternal deaths and millions of complications globally.

EngenderHealth supports comprehensive abortion care (CAC), including safe induced abortion, emergency treatment of abortion-related complications, and postabortion contraception. We also work within communities to reduce abortion-related stigma and increase awareness of unsafe abortion as well as aid civil society organizations that advocate for conducive policies and systems. In 2019 alone, we helped to avert a total of 1.4 million unsafe abortions.

In Benin, Burkina Faso, and Côte d’Ivoire, for example, we have provided support to around 200 youth, seven civil society organization platforms, and hundreds of individuals advocating for improved access to CAC, enabling them to reach more than 4 million people through community radio and nearly 300,000 people on social media with information on safe abortion rights.

HIV/AIDS Prevention, Treatment, and Support

Women and girls account for over half the population living with HIV globally. Their risk for infection is increased by harmful social norms, systemic gender inequality, lack of access to healthcare, and the unique impacts of poverty on women and girls. Those living with HIV also face barriers to treatment due to social stigma.

EngenderHealth collaborates with health ministries to sustainably address the unequal burden of HIV on women and girls by integrating HIV and sexual and reproductive health services, reducing the stigmatization of HIV through education, and preventing mother-to-child transmission.

Through the USAID Boresha Afya (“Improve Health”) Southern Zone and North/Central Zone projects in Tanzania, for instance, we expand access to quality, comprehensive, and integrated health services for women and youth, with HIV/AIDS as a primary focus area, while also supporting financial and vocational skills trainings for vulnerable women, particularly those living with HIV.

Originally published at on September 25, 2020.

A global organization expanding access to sexual and reproductive health and rights services and information in multiple countries around the world.