“Men know more about
everything. They also understand [things] better. We women are very emotional
and thus do not take practical decisions. They are also the ones who earn money
by working tirelessly and understand the value of money.”
These words were spoken
by a woman we met while conducting research to inform our programmes in
We were there to explore the reasons why many young women
are not able to carry out the recommended health practices during pregnancy,
such as attending enough antenatal appointments, or delivering their baby at a
As part of BBC Media Action's Global Grant programme, we
were also able to conduct similar research across Bangladesh, Ethiopia, South
Sudan and, as well as Odisha and Madhya Pradesh in India.
Alongside poor access to information and health services – young
women's lack of status in society consistently emerged as a barrier to
improving their health.
We found that young women’s health is not given
priority when men are allocating money, and many young women do not have the
confidence to negotiate for better care.
And where families are supportive of pregnant women
receiving care, it’s often for benefit of the unborn child rather than for the
In Bangladesh and India many young rural women have little power
and their mothers-in-law and husbands are the household decision-makers. Many
mothers-in-law do not sanction a pregnant woman receiving special care.
Pregnant women fleeing fighting in South Sudan.
In South Sudan, meanwhile, following years of civil war,
many young women are under pressure to give birth to as many children as
possible within quick succession, as reflected by this health worker quoted in
“The culture says let the woman produce. If you produce you
will be a lucky woman at home, if you don’t produce the man will divorce.”
In Ethiopia our research found that young women appear to
have relatively more autonomy and, generally, more supportive husbands, however
it also found that some husbands refuse to help their pregnant wives with what
they see as “women’s work”.
Impact on programmes
These findings suggest that women’s status and gender
stereotypes shape what they do in relation to their health, across the four
countries. But what does this mean for our programme makers?
We’ve shared these findings with our programme makers who
are already trying to weave storylines and features around women’s status into
our programmes to try to bring positive change.
For example, in Ethiopia,
our maternal health radio programme has encouraged men to start calling their wives
by their first names, which is a sign of greater respect.
our health TV drama, which is trying to delay the age of first marriage,
portrays how taking a girl out of education to marry against her own will can
act as the catalyst for the decline of her health and her family’s fortune.
It’ll be interesting to see to what extent these programmes will
have an impact on attitudes towards women’s care – but from our initial
findings, it seems clear that improving women’s health and status go hand in