Reaching Women: BWU’s Family Planning Distribution

In the international global health community supporting reproductive health and family planning programs has recently become the object of heavy discussion, and large funding organizations are revamping their commitment to funding in this area of global health. A few current events we are excited about:

The Lancet has published a fantastic series called Family Planning persuasively siting the health, economic, and national development benefits of empowering women.

The Gates Foundation launched the No Controversy campaign, encouraging viewers to pledge their belief that “Every girl and women deserves the opportunity to determine her own future” in support of contraception as a means to this empowerment.

And today the London Summit on Family Planning will break ground encouraging the international community to invest in birth control.

In the local community of over 80,000 Burmese migrant workers in Mae Sot, the need for increased access to and distribution of family planning supplies has long been discussed among organizations in the region. Burmese Women’s Union is part of the network of organizations in Mae Sot seeking to address the need for contraception in the field. In partnership with Mae Tau Clinic and GlobeMed at Whitman, BWU gains access to family planning materials which they distribute to women working and living in the paddies and factories of Mae Sot. Extra supplies are sent to the BWU branch in the Mae La Oo Refugee Camp.

Women attend a full day reproductive health training where they can be educated about contraception, and women who chose a chemical family planning method convene regularly to receive a set of pills or a depo provera injection from the BWU medic. In late June, we were able to go into the field to observe one of BWU’s contraception distributions.

Records are well kept, and women are reminded to note any side effects and come back in one month for pills or three months for injections. Most of the women are married, in their late twenties to middle age, and many came with a nursing toddler in tow. Ying Myu Hlaing explained that the women cannot afford to have more children, but without education and contraceptive supplies from BWU, they would have zero means of prevention.

Some women opt for the injection because it is easier to hide from husbands who might not consent to using contraceptives. BWU attributes this struggle to harsh gender inequalities entrenched in Burmese society as well as a distinct lack of reproductive health education. In some cases, BWU staff members will help mediate a discussion between a married couple to educate and find a family planning solution.
Limited family planning supplies are available at the Mae Tau clinic in town, but women working too many hours in rural, low wage jobs are unable to reliably access this supply. For the many undocumented workers, traveling into town also greatly increases the risk of discovery by Thai authorities resulting in a heavy fine or even deportation. Distribution in the field is an important aspect of successfully supplying women with contraceptives. BWU is well placed within the migrant community to carry out such a distribution as a grass roots organization run by Burmese migrants and former refugees themselves.

BWU staff workers Zar Zar, Naw Mu Naw, and Ying Myu Hlaing (left to right) distributing contraceptive pills and giving depo provera injections in the field.

Despite the success of their current program, there remains a grossly unmet need for more education and distribution. As we seek to expand the capacity of the program through our partnership with BWU, we can find hope in the fact that funding contraception distribution has essentially zero drawbacks. Reaching, empowering, educating 1 woman, 1 family, is better than reaching none.

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2 thoughts on “Reaching Women: BWU’s Family Planning Distribution

  1. Rachel says:

    How does the BWU staff travel in the field to distribute contraception? How far are they able to travel? Do you know how many women they are currently helping on a monthly or quarterly basis?

    • They travel by motorbike. But the office in Mae Sot is 10 minutes outside of town, so I’d say we are already ‘in the field’ as it is right out here with the factories and rice paddies. The focus is on the Mae Sot region, so I don’t think they travel further than 30 minutes out. In the Mae Sot there are about 50 women receiving birth control, and another 10 to 15 in Mae La Oo funded by GlobeMed and Mae Tau clinic. There is only 1 medic able to give contraceptive injections in each region. Funding is their biggest limiting factor.

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