International Women’s Day 2021: Empowering Leaders

For this year’s International Women’s Day, we are celebrating the inspiring women who are building a more equitable and safer world. Notably, we are choosing to spotlight women who inspire and support other women to rebuild and lead, as well as those women who are emerging as leaders in their communities. From inspiring patients to life-changing doctors and health care workers, Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia has a strong and continuous history of empowering women.

Celebrating women in leadership

The official theme which the United Nations designated for International Women’s Day 2021 is “Women in Leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world.” Women in positions of leadership are able to enact change that is inclusive of the needs of women and girls in their communities.

Too often, women disproportionately bear the brunt of global problems – from COVID-19 to poverty to climate change. History, however, has shown that women also possess the assets and talents to solve many of the challenges that they face. One such woman was Dr Catherine Hamlin, whose Hamlin Model of Care has transformed and uplifted the lives of over 60,000 Ethiopian women.

International Women’s Day is a time to reflect on progress made; to celebrate acts of courage and determination by ordinary women, who have played an extraordinary role in the history of their countries and communities. Catherine’s legacy shows that everyone has the capacity to make the world a better place.

Empowering women to rebuild and lead

Catherine Hamlin was a woman who pioneered obstetric fistula treatment, inspired women across the globe and was committed to restoring dignity and hope in Ethiopian women. Catherine’s altruism extended beyond community service: she mentored and educated scores of women who, in turn, became leaders. So many female leaders had to overcome significant barriers to create change. Catherine had to overcome the structural sexism of the 1940s to become a pioneering obstetrician-gynaecologist, and Mamitu Gashe had to overcome fistula and illiteracy to become one of the world’s preeminent fistula surgeons.

Click here to learn more about Catherine’s pioneering work.

Beyond celebrating Catherine’s incredible work over a lifetime, we are also celebrating the inspirational women who work and are treated at Hamlin’s six fistula hospitals in Ethiopia. From Hamlin’s Clinical Team, management and general staff, Hamlin Midwives, and foremost, Hamlin fistula patients, there are inspiring stories of women making a difference.

At Desta Mender, Hamlin’s Rehabilitation and Reintegration Centre, women are able to heal physically and mentally from the trauma of fistula. This is due to the personalised counselling and rehabilitation program each patient receives. Desta Mender, however, is more than a rehabilitation centre: it is also a centre that equips women with skills so that they can reintegrate into their communities. Literacy and numeracy classes, business skills training, and vocational skills training are taught to patients, empowering them to rebuild their lives after fistula. In some instances, Hamlin facilitates grants for women to establish their own business after they leave. Leaders, in the vein of International Women’s Day 2021’s theme, are born from this initiative. To date, over 50 recovered patients from Hamlin’s Desta Mender have started their own businesses, enabling women to generate income and live independently.

From fistula patient to successful farmer: Beburuyosh’s story

Beburuyosh’s story is one of hope, resilience and immense strength. Beburuyosh embodies many of the values of this year’s International Women’s Day theme: becoming empowered to lead her community and create change.

In developing the Hamlin Model of Care, Catherine Hamlin created a holistic approach to fistula treatment which includes surgical repair, rehabilitation, counselling and reintegration. Above all, the Hamlin Model of Care centres treatment around a fundamental respect and love for the patient.

After suffering for four days with an obstructed labour – and without a trained midwife – Beburuyosh delivered a stillborn baby. Tragically, her pain was compounded when she realised that she had also suffered an obstetric fistula injury. As a result, Beburuyosh was left incontinent of urine. Despite a supportive family, Beburuyosh’s community ostracised her. She lived, cut off from her community, for 18 long years.

After hearing about Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia in her village, Beburuyosh travelled to Hamlin’s Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital. There, she underwent several fistula repair surgeries to treat her complex fistula injury. Her fifth diversion surgery was a success, yet she required extensive post-surgery treatment to heal from her severe injuries. As a result, Beburuyosh went to Desta Mender, for further care.

At Desta Mender, the Hamlin staff gave Beburuyosh a tailored counselling and training program. Beburuyosh learnt animal husbandry training – a useful skill she could use on her farm back home. Upon completing her training, Beburuyosh returned home to her family in Fiche, Ethiopia. Equipped with better farming techniques and skills, Beburuyosh’s farm is flourishing. She has become a leader in her community by passing on these skills to other farmers, empowering other women and men in the process.

Today, Beburuyosh is a leader in her community. Moreover, she is independent and empowered – a far cry from the isolation and shame she experienced for 18 years.

How can you support women this International Women’s Day?

Donate: Donations to charity support women in Ethiopia. Click here to empower a woman like Beburuyosh. Your donation of $290 can be used to provide two women with literacy and numeracy skills training.

Shop: To celebrate International Women’s Day 2021, we have teamed up with renowned Australian artist, and champion for women with obstetric fistula, Wendy Sharpe to create a stunning limited edition tea towel, proceeds from which support fistula patients. Click here to buy the Wendy Sharpe Limited Edition Tea Towel.

Social media: Share this blog on social media to spread the Hamlin story and encourage others to learn more. Keep up to date with the latest news in the fight to eradicate fistula by following Hamlin on social media.

Talk: Have a conversation with your family, colleagues or friends. International Women’s Day is important; talk to them about what it means to you and tell them about the Catherine Hamlin Fistula Foundation.

More News