The Heroes of International Women’s Day

PSI works to make it easier for women in the developing world to live healthier lives and plan the families they desire. Now more than ever, our commitment to women is unwavering.

On International Women’s Day, we’re featuring three heroes of their own stories. In keeping themselves and their families healthy, they’re creating a better future for their communities.

Ingrid, Guatemala


Photo: © Population Services International / Photo by: Rita Villanueva

Ingrid Idalia Montes Alvarado is a 44-year-old mother of seven from Guatemala City. She and her husband, who is a day laborer, knew that another child would stretch them past the breaking point.

“Each child is beautiful,” says Ingrid. “But when one gets sick, sometimes you don’t have what you need to take care of them. Sometimes there’s not even enough bread or water to give them.”

Ingrid had tried just about every contraceptive method she knew about and could get hold of, but she experienced side effects each time. And each time she got pregnant.

Ingrid is not alone. In the developing world, more than 220 million women and girls lack access to the modern contraception they desire. Not surprisingly, every year, there are more than 70 million unintended pregnancies, and every day more than 800 women die from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth.

Ingrid’s life changed the day she saw a flyer for a clinic health day in her neighborhood organized by Pan-American Social Marketing Organization (PASMO), PSI’s network member in Central America.

At the clinic health day, counselors informed Ingrid about her contraceptive options – including short-acting contraception (like oral contraception pills) and long-acting reversible contraception (like intrauterine devices and implants).

Ingrid chose an intrauterine device. Since then, she hasn’t got pregnant and hasn’t had any side effects.

Now, Ingrid educates her children about using contraception and choice in family size. She is proud that one of her daughters uses the IUD and her daughter-in-law uses a contraceptive implant.

Just last year, we prevented an estimated 5.6 million unintended pregnancies and over 15,400 maternal deaths among women like Ingrid worldwide.

Beatrice, Democratic Republic of Congo

beatrice cropped

Photo: © Population Services International / Photo by: Chris Khonde

Beatrice, a mother of four, gets an early start each day. After her husband leaves for work and the children are off to school, she goes to market to sell beignets. In the early afternoon, she returns to cook dinner.

When Beatrice or her husband, a local van driver, are sick they need to rebound quickly. “If I can’t work or my husband can’t work, it paralyzes the family,” she says.

When anyone in the family is sick everyone worries about the cost of proper care. Recently, Beatrice herself had a fever. She’d heard ads for Greenleaf products. “I wasn’t completely sure about it though so I went and asked the pharmacist,” she says.

Her pharmacist tested her with an RDT. She was positive for malaria so he treated her with a GreenLeaf ACT. The cost: about $2 for the test and medication. “Sometimes at the clinic have to pay $9 or $10 for the consultation and the medications,” she says.

Now Beatrice is prepared for the next time one of her children has a fever. She can get her child diagnosed in her neighborhood and get the right medication. “If the test is negative, then we get referred to the hospital where the doctor can do more tests to figure out what is wrong,” she says. “This saves time and money and helps the family get back to work and regular life.”

Sunila, India

sunila cropped

Photo: © Population Services International / Photo by: Kiran Thejaswi

Sunila Devi lives in Bihar, India. India is a country of 1.3 billion people, half of which don’t have access to a toilet. Without proper sanitation facilities, 600,000 people have no choice but to relieve themselves out in the open.

“It was difficult going in the open. Other people keep coming and going,” Sunila says. “We had to be alert so that we were not watched. It was upsetting.”

As a mother, Sunila was told about the dangerous health implications of poor sanitation on her children. Sanitation-related diseases can keep children out of school and become life-threatening.

In Bihar, where nearly 80% of rural households have no toilet, the Domestos Toilet Academy is operating in partnership with PSI, building on an initiative which was also funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Together, they’ve helped create a new market where, as of November 2016, individuals have purchased 86,000 toilets so far.

The program simplifies the purchase of a toilet. Buying a toilet can involve 15-20 different transactions. The program connects trained cement ring manufacturers to the providers of bricks, doors, pans and other items to minimize the complexity of buying a toilet.

Even when the parts are accessible, it’s not easy for families like Sunila’s to afford a toilet. A new toilet can cost anywhere from 15,000-20,000 rupees. For many rural people, that’s three to four times their monthly salary. That’s why the program connects people to microfinance institutions so they can afford a clean and safe toilet.

And finally, the program provides education about the health and safety benefits of toilets and encourages people to change their habits from going outside to using a household toilet. To do this, PSI works with the entire village to create a new social norm. It is only when everyone in the village is using a toilet that they get the full health benefit of being “open defecation free.”

Standing outside her new, clean toilet Sunila says proudly, “I never thought having a toilet would be so useful. It’s good for our children. Now my children will not have to go outside to relieve themselves.”