Monday 26 June 2023

Celebrating Womanhood Art Gala: A Rallying Call for Improved Maternal Health Care

Panel Session at the Celebrating Womanhood Art Gala by Nigeria Health Watch

by Cynthia Umeh

Maternal health is a critical issue in Nigeria, with thousands of women dying each year due to preventable causes. In recognition of this pressing challenge, Nigeria Health Watch organized the second edition of the Celebrating Womanhood Art Gala, focused on "Elevating Women's Voices for Quality Maternal Health Care." The gala aimed to raise awareness of maternal health issues among stakeholders beyond the health sector, encouraging guests to engage with art, participate, and begin finding solutions to Nigeria's maternal health challenges. 

Shades of Us Storytelling Initiative for African People (Shades of Us) was especially thrilled to be at this event. Our commitment to improving maternal health indices in Nigeria, across Africa, and among all women of African descent is one of the drivers of our work. We know that maternal health is an essential component of overall public health and well-being and that raising awareness of these issues can help improve the lives of women and children around the world.

The Womanhood Art Gala commenced with a glamorous red carpet entrance by guests, who looked stunning in lovely dresses, suits, and welcoming smiles. The gala fully commenced with a walk-through, a guided tour of the art exhibition, led by Ngozi Akande of the Female Artists Association of Nigeria (FEAAN). It was a gallery of brushstrokes and images telling the stories of pain, hope, sorrow, and fear. 

Some of Pieces at the Celebrating Womanhood Art Gala by Nigeria Health Watch

The opening address was given by Vivian Ihekweazu, the Managing Director of Nigeria Health Watch, who addressed women's perspectives on maternal health and the need to capture their experiences to ensure their needs are incorporated in planning.

The welcome remarks were given by Iyadunni Olubode, the Nigeria Director of MSD for Mothers, followed by Onyedikachi Ewe, Senior Programmer and Advocacy Manager of Nigeria Health Watch, who unveiled the theme of the event and the art pieces highlighting the importance of quality maternal health. These pieces emphasized the need for women to be heard when it comes to maternal health. 

A "Voice it Up" segment was really interesting.  Creators  showcased their art  and the ideas and concepts behind their pieces. The first up was "Mothers Alive, Babies Alive" by Moshood Ojo, Senior Maternal and Perinatal Death Surveillance and Response (MPDSR) Advisor. The piece presents opportunities to identify and discuss biases in social and gender norms that contribute to maternal deaths. He hoped to generate actions that addressed these norms, thereby preventing similar deaths in the future.

To set the stage for more conversation,  a panel session titled "Curated Conversation for Quality Maternal Health: A Conversation with Maternal Health Advocates" was moderated by Kemisola Agbaoye, the Director of Programmes at Nigeria Health Watch. The panelists included Chibugo Okoli, Deputy Country Director of Jhpiego, Reducing the Indirect Causes of Maternal Morbidity and Mortality (RICOM3); Emeka Okafor, Chief of Party of the IntegratE Project; Jennifer Adebambo, Country Programmes and Advocacy Manager of the White Ribbon Alliance, Nigeria; and Uche Igbokwe, Project Director of Smiles for Mothers.

Panelists Pose with Vivian Ihekweazu, the Managing Director of Nigeria Health Watch, at the Celebrating Womanhood Art Gala by Nigeria Health Watch

Uche Igbokwe emphasized the importance of communal collaborations. “One of the ways we have empowered women's voices is by collaborating closely with communities to develop materials that enhance patient literacy. This process involves engaging with women within the community to understand the messages that would resonate with them.”

Pharm. Emeka Okafor shared a similar idea. “Through the establishment of community dialogue forums, we had the opportunity to engage directly with women and gather their feedback on the quality of services provided by healthcare providers. This input played a crucial role in informing our project.”

And Jennifer Adebabambo expounded on autonomy as a key to improved health. “Our self-care initiative empowers women by granting them the knowledge and autonomy to make informed decisions about their health. It ensures that women have a voice and the freedom to address their health needs in a manner that suits them best, in terms of where, when, and how they seek care.” 

It was an insightful session that provided valuable perspectives on maternal health care. 

Sights from the Celebrating Womanhood Art Gala by Nigeria Health Watch

After the panel session, there was a music interlude, followed by another "Voice It Up" segment by Chiazam Onyenso, Knowledge Management Analyst of the United Nations Family Planning Agency (UNFPA), on "Your Body, Your Choice". The piece captured the powerful message of a woman's recognition of her rights to self-autonomy.

There was also a creative, heartwarming word performance by poet Falade Pariolodo and artist Mangai Joel Dawang on "Into the Heart of a Broken Place".

The event closed with another "Voice it Up" featuring "Voice of my Inner Women" by Dorcas Akila, Program Manager of The Challenge Initiative, and a presentation by Hannatu John, Programmer at Adolescents 360 Amplify, a Society for Family Health project, on "Girl With a Plan," which shows a girl who has thoughts about her future, identifies her strengths and weaknesses, and creates a road map to help her achieve her goals.

Cynthia Umeh, Audio and Video Editor at Shades of Us at the Celebrating Womanhood Art Gala by Nigeria Health Watch

We appreciated the opportunity to learn more about current research and initiatives related to maternal health and gain insights from experts in the field. We believe that through partnerships, we can raise awareness about collective initiatives that can help us—all of us—solve some of the more pressing issues around maternal and child health. We look forward to more innovative ways of reaching individuals, communities, organizations, and the government with life-changing information about maternal and child health. 

Kudos to the Nigerian Health Watch for such a well-rounded, hugely successful event.

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