For decades, Afghanistan has been a patriarchal society, where women’s access to education and opportunity was severely limited. This situation was compounded by the Taliban, who took control of the country in the late 1990s and enforced strict Islamic law, severely restricting the rights of women. Despite the challenges they face, Afghan women are gradually taking up more active roles in society, with many training to become midwives.

Childbirth is one of the most dangerous moments in a woman’s life, especially in low-income countries. According to the Afghan Ministry of Public Health, Afghanistan has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world, with one woman dying every two hours from pregnancy-related complications. This rate is four times higher than the global average, and most maternal deaths occur in remote and rural areas where healthcare is inadequate.

Fortunately, there is a growing number of Afghan women who are breaking the barriers of gender discrimination in their communities and are choosing to train as midwives. Historically, midwifery is seen as a female-only profession in Afghanistan, meaning that women are the primary providers of maternal health services. However, a lack of access to training facilities, poor infrastructure, and conflict have meant that women do not always have access to qualified midwives.

Midwifery training programs are now becoming available in many locations throughout Afghanistan. With the support of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and international aid, women in remote and rural areas are now able to access midwifery services. These midwifery programs aim to increase the number of skilled midwives in the country and improve maternal and newborn health outcomes.

One example of this is the HERA (Help Eliminate the Risks of AIDS) project in Kabul, which was established in 1996 and has been providing midwife training courses since 2006. The HERA project has provided midwifery education to many women in Afghanistan, where maternal mortality rates remain extremely high. The program not only provides training but also equips midwives with the essential skills and tools they need to care for their patients, such as birthing kits, which include sterile delivery supplies.

Helen Kerfoot, the HERA Project Manager, remarked, “Ten years ago, it was rare for women to leave the house, but now enrolled midwives go to a facility to deliver babies each week. As women have begun to step into the position of midwife, their status in the community has changed, and people are more accepting of them than before.”

Women who choose to become midwives in Afghanistan face many challenges. With only 30% of women literate and cultural barriers prohibiting women from working outside the home, many candidates must overcome hurdles to pursue midwifery training. However, becoming a midwife is seen as a viable option for women who have been denied other opportunities due to social and cultural barriers.

Midwifery is also seen as a “niche” career for women. “Becoming a midwife has opened many options for women. They gain a lot of empowerment, self-dignity, and more access to education,” added Kerfoot.

The midwives themselves are also helping to boost community relationships, breaking down social and cultural barriers with the local population. Often, women in rural areas of Afghanistan do not share their health concerns with male healthcare providers. The recruitment of female midwives from the local community increases healthcare access and engagement with women, as they are more likely to be open about their needs.

Midwives also provide the opportunity for women to give birth in safe conditions, reducing the risk of maternal mortality. They are equipped with the knowledge and tools to identify and manage potential complications that can arise during childbirth, such as prolonged labor or hemorrhaging. These midwives have the potential to improve the rates of maternal mortality in Afghanistan by ensuring that more women have access to safe deliveries.

In conclusion, women are a vital force in building prosperous and healthy societies. As midwives, they act as agents of change and innovation, contributing to improved maternal and child health outcomes. Midwifery empowers women and promotes gender equality, an essential aspect of sustainable development. By breaking down social and cultural barriers, midwives are helping to raise the status of women in Afghanistan while also improving healthcare outcomes for mothers and children. Thus, empowering women with the tools and resources necessary to become skilled healthcare providers should be a top priority. The skills they develop in this field can also be applied to other areas of their lives, providing opportunities for economic growth and independence. The work done by these midwives today will serve as the foundation for a brighter, more prosperous future for future generations of Afghan women.