“As we all know, women love to talk.” With these words, Tanja Houweling started her lecture at the CFIA #GoFrugal Seminar on 4 December 2018. During her lecture she shared her research on women groups and the role these groups can play in solving some of the most persistent health issues.
The research project(s) focused on establishing women groups, led by a local facilitator, in order to reduce neonatal mortality. This intervention, where women groups gathered monthly, could be described as frugal. During the monthly meetings women first identified and prioritized the issues most crucial and urgent to them. After this prioritization, the groups (together with the facilitator) sought and implemented solutions suitable for that specific context, which could include, for example, safe delivery kits. At the final meeting the groups shared their newfound knowledge and solutions with the entire village, starting a collective journey within the local community. The process was managed and facilitated by local partner organisations.
The research has showed that the intervention can contribute greatly to the decline of neonatal mortality. It increases confidence, because the women become aware, informed and empowered. A strong improvement in home care practices was seen. The women supported each other, helping them to convince family members while also gathering community support for the diminishing of harmful practice (and the acceptance of ‘new’ practices).
However, the study also revealed a challenge: with low attendance, no significant impacts were seen. Attendance is key to accomplish these effects. A combination of universal coverage and soft targeting are key to increase attendance. Examples of this are a convenient time and place, low-cost and relevant strategies and allowing everyone to join. A good facilitator can also make the difference – some facilitators even went door to door to encourage women to participate.
The intervention is currently being scaled up to access of 24 million people in India. The interventions are also being tested for different issues, such as chronic disease management, as well as different contexts, such as the United Kingdom (an example of ‘reverse innovation’).