Access to Healthcare

Women in the lead: “Together we are stronger”

My message is that women need to encourage each other, share opportunities and form a strong community of women by empowering each other. If you are a woman in a leadership position, recruit other women and provide training opportunities for women. Because together we are stronger.

I started working with MSF as a midwife in my country, Sierra Leone, in 2003, later becoming midwife supervisor. Whenever international staff would come to my country, they would say: ‘Fatmata you are not supposed to be working as a midwife again in your country, you are supposed to work internationally with MSF.’

But I never knew how to go about it, and no one ever explained to me how to do it until I met one of MSF’s women’s health advisors, Claire. Claire asked me what I really wanted to be, so I told her that I want to be an international field worker like her. With her guidance I started working towards it, first by learning how to write [formal documents such as] a morbidity and mortality report and an incident report. Then I eventually applied and was selected for a position.

Fatmata Sumaila in the maternity department in Lankien, South Sudan, where she works as midwife activity manager. [©Melissa Perry/MSF]

My work as an international midwife activity manager involves assisting in complicated cases, both in maternity care and sexual and gender-based violence [SGBV] care. I also provide training to staff on complicated deliveries, and I’m responsible for the overall planning, monitoring and evaluation of sexual and reproductive health activities.

As a leader I have to set an example for my team by doing the hands-on work, as well as providing on-the-job training for many junior staff in all aspects of sexual and reproductive health and SGBV activities. I have inspired my staff by telling them the story of how I became a midwife, and in doing so they were motivated, and now some are even in school studying midwifery and state-registered nursing. I explain that to achieve your dreams in life or work you need to concentrate and work hard.

In her leadership role as midwife activity manager, Fatmata Sumaila tries to empower other women. [© Melissa Perry/MSF]

I’ve aimed to be a changemaker in my place of work by setting up better systems and processes. I’ve also made my staff realise the importance of time management, and introduced more efficient handovers to ensure quality care for our patients.

I have faced challenges as a woman, such as men ignoring my opinions, as well as misunderstandings with other women. I’ve overcome these challenges by being a good communicator, and talking about the importance of equal rights for both sexes, and respect for all people and their ideas.

Fatmata Sumaila has worked with MSF since 2003, and is now in an international midwife activity manager role in South Sudan. [©Melissa Perry/MSF]

After working in Sierra Leone, Bangladesh and now South Sudan, I’ve seen that many women are vulnerable and have no voice to speak out. This has motivated me to work for them and help them speak out loud about their problems, by giving them training about women’s rights.

International Women’s Day is a particular day to acknowledge and honour women around the world for the contributions they make each day to society. It is a day to call to action accelerating gender parity, celebrating women’s achievements and raising awareness about women’s equality.

Just like Claire did for me, I now work to encourage other women by building their hopes, and standing up for other women.

The Jonglei healthcare project was established in 1993 to respond to outbreaks of kala azar. The project has grown to be located across two counties, and includes the only secondary referral centre for Nyirol and Uror counties. It also includes an outpatient department in Lankien, Nyirol, a primary healthcare clinic in Pieri, Uror, and five community-based healthcare centres to serve populations who live far from the main healthcare structures.