Renowned Midwife Speaks for International Women’s Day

Midwife Neha Mankani visits Direct Relief headquarters on International Women’s Day. (Kim Ofilas/Direct Relief)

International Women’s Day drew a crowd of over 100 people to hear firsthand about the essential work of midwives from a midwife who responded to the 2022 floods in Pakistan to serve women who had little to no access to care.

Neha Mankani spoke at Direct Relief headquarters on Friday, shortly after a short documentary called “Neha,” which chronicles her efforts to bring midwifery care to communities impacted by the catastrophic floods in Pakistan’s Sindh Province, was shown to those gathered. A volunteer event was also held to pack personal care items for women around the world.

In November 2023, Mankani was named among the “2023 BBC 100 Women,” highlighting inspiring and influential women from across the globe. Mankani was a Fulbright Scholar and earned a master’s in public health from Columbia University, is a midwife and founder of Mama Baby Fund, and also works with the International Confederation of Midwives to shape policy and advocate for midwives globally.

Direct Relief often supports the work of midwives during emergencies because they are often first responders to those most vulnerable, including pregnant women and infants. Direct Relief CEO Thomas Tighe introduced Mankani, and said the organization works to connect resources to midwives in the wake of disasters for just that reason. “When we see an earthquake, or a typhoon… we’re thinking of midwives, because they always show up,” Tighe said.

The documentary show Mankani working to access clinics where demand for health services far outpaced capacity after the 2022 floods, and showed the devastating impacts of climate on health. Afterwards, Mankani was interviewed by Paulina Ospina, Direct Relief’s Maternal and Child Health Associate Director, and the two spoke about the significant intersections of climate change and the impacts on pregnant people and young children. For example, the impacts of heat can have direct implications for prevalence of hypertension, pre-eclampsia, and even pre-term birth, Mankani said.

Direct Relief’s Paulina Ospina interviews Neha Mankani at Direct Relief headquarters on March 8, 2024. (Kim Ofilas/Direct Relief)

Environmental factors have direct impacts on women and children, including lack of access to quality food due to crop devastation from flooding and lost livelihoods for agricultural workers. Malaria and other vector-borne diseases are also related, as well as access to clean water and timely health care. Gender inequity and gender based violence also add layers to women accessing care and resources.

“All of these disasters are set against an already weak health system,” she said. “It makes a poor situation worse.”

The documentary showed a scene of Mankani holding a listening session with midwives in Pakistan, asking them what they need to feel empowered in their communities to do their work safely and effectively. Because many of the policies around health care and midwifery are made at the Ministry of Health and country level, direct feedback from midwives is often left out of the conversation. But that’s changing, Mankani said, a fact that she finds extremely hopeful.

“There’s a sense of ‘nothing about us, without us’,” she said. “There’s a recognition that a lot of the change needs to come from the ground.”

Volunteers pack personal care kits for women experiencing emergency situations. (Kim Ofilas/Direct Relief)

Watch a news video of the event here: Direct Relief celebrates International Women’s Day.

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