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Why gender-responsive and adolescent friendly health services are so important

Women and girls face a number of challenges when they choose to visit health care centers, such as shortages of skilled staff and of medical equipment at health centers.

A most important challenge is also the lack of gender responsive services, which better respond to the unique barriers that women and girls face. "Health workers need to have the requisite knowledge and skills to manage maternal, neonatal and child health issues," explains Madam Praise, a public health nurse in Ghana. A lack of this knowledge can result in delays, misdiagnoses and sometimes even death.

By and large, health services tend to not respond to unique gender related needs and often:

  • Ignore cultural restrictions for women (such as the dominance of male health workers in conservative areas) and adolescents;
  • Offer fragmented services that require frequent trips (unmindful of time, cost and logistical barriers for women and adolescents);
  • Use service protocols that require male and/or parental consent (thereby undermining a women’s or adolescent’s autonomy);
  • Provide little to no privacy (in counseling rooms, waiting areas and washrooms) resulting in indignity.

Our Impact

With support from the Government of Canada and individual Canadians, and our partners, Plan International Canada is able to continue investing in programs that work with health workers on how to provide sexual, reproductive, maternal, newborn and child health services that respond to gender-related needs and are welcoming to adolescents; and programs that empower women and girls and engage men and adolescent boys as active partners of change for gender equality.

Woman holding baby

What Plan International is doing

Plan International and local partners have and continue to help train nurses, midwives, and other health workers, such as Madam Praise, on a large diversity of important skills, including prenatal care, management of childhood and neonatal illnesses, emergency obstetric and neonatal care, provision of sexual and reproductive services and family planning counseling. This empowers health workers to adapt their attitudes and behaviours to provide respectful care to their patients.

To complement the training, knowledge and information that health workers receive, Plan International Canada, in collaboration with local partners, is also supporting the refurbishment of health centers to increase privacy, working with health centers to strengthen referral systems for women and adolescents and improving resources for transportation and communication around health centers.

"This has helped us forge a better relationship with the community members and leaders,"" says the head of one Ghanaian health centre about the training on gender-responsive services, equipment and medicine provided by Plan International projects and partners. "My facility can now organize three outreach sessions the same day." The centre’s staff also visits health facilities and communities in the region.

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