She would never tell her family. They could never know.


I was amazed that the young woman was brave enough to tell her story at all.

With a teary smile she explained that she was telling us because she was just so happy that her life was not over as feared.  She was just so relieved to have found someone to help her.  The week before she had called her friend to say goodbye.

Like many Ethiopian young women in search of a better future, the woman I met had been working as a domestic servant in one of the nearby Arab countries. The home she worked in was abusive, and she was raped.

Wrapped head to toe in her traditional Muslim dress she explained that when she found out that she was pregnant she knew that she would be killed if anyone else discovered the truth.  She could not stay in Bahrain; she could no longer come home.  She would have been blamed for this crime.

Her friend had told her about Marie Stopes in Addis Ababa. I happened to be there with the International Reporting Project Fellowship to report on newborn health the day that she came in.   Sadly many women in similar situations do not know where to turn for help. Over 21 million women in the world will turn to unsafe abortions as a solution each year. 47,000 of those women die as a direct result. Often these are desperate young women or girls who will go to any length, to keep their situation a secret.  That price is too often their life, frequently leaving older children motherless.

Maternal health is intricately intertwined with newborn health, and our visit to the Marie Stopes International site highlighted the importance of family planning in the fight to save women’s lives. The Ethiopian government has been working hard to reduce maternal deaths and the revision of the Ethiopian abortion law in 2005 was a step to save the lives of mothers from unsafe abortions. Before the change 35% of maternal deaths in Ethiopia were attributed to unsafe abortions.  Since the liberal law was put in place to allow women who are health risk, have been raped, are victims of incest, and a couple of other special circumstances to get abortions legally,  maternal deaths due to unsafe abortions in Ethiopia have dropped to 6%. These numbers back up the importance of women having control of their reproductive health.  Being able to make an informed choice and take control of your own reproductive health is a basic human right.

On top of the lives saved when women are in control, according to Marie Stopes International, voluntary family planning is one of the most cost-effective investments a country can make in its future. Every dollar spent on family planning can save governments up to 6 dollars that in turn can be spent on improving health, housing, water, sanitation, and other public services.

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When the UN General Assembly sits down to discuss the 8 millennium development goals this September, special attention needs to be directed towards goal #5.  MDG #5, to reduce maternal mortality, is lagging behind the other Millennium Development Goals, and only a small fraction of United Nations member countries are on track to meet that goal in 2015. Marie Stopes International knows that global maternal health can only improve if we #MakeWomenMatter.

Here are the facts:

  • Every day, 800 women die from causes related to pregnancy or childbirth
  • When a mother dies, the risk of death for her children under the age of five increases by 50%
  • The number one killer of 15-19 year old girls worldwide is pregnancy and childbirth.  Every year, 70,000 young women die as a result of pregnancy and childbirth – over 70% of these deaths are preventable
  • This year alone, it is estimated that nearly 22 million unsafe abortions will take place around the World


Worldwide, one woman dies every 11 minutes from an unsafe abortion. Yet providing access to reproductive healthcare is one of the simplest and cheapest ways to save women’s lives. If everyone who wanted to use contraception was able to, 79,000 women’s lives and 1.1 million infants’ lives could be saved in the developing world alone. – Marie Stopes International #Make Women Matter

When I think about the woman I met at the Marie Stopes clinic that day in Ethiopia I can still see her beautiful teary smile of relief.  Even in her emotional situation she was full of life and hope for her future, and things could have turned out very differently if she had not been given back her future.

To find out more about the Marie Stopes International Make Women Matter campaign you can follow #makewomenmatter or visit the website.

I traveled to Ethiopia with the International Reporting Project on a New Media Fellowship to report on newborn health.

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