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For around 40 years, she has worked to save women’s’ lives in the most isolated regions of Yemen. Now she has been recognized by being named Humanitarian of the year by InterAction, an organization that represents more than 150 development and humanitarian NGOs worldwide. The award was presented to Ms. Suad Kassem Saleh, who works for Pathfinder International in Yemen, in Washington at the annual Interaction gala on May 8.
Pathfinder International, a project supported by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), congratulated Ms. Saleh on winning the 2008 InterAction Humanitarian of the year Award. More than 800 important figures of the alliance’s organizations and the developing countries’ non-governmental organizations attended the forum, in addition to representatives from the USAID, United Nations and World Bank.
Each year, InterAction recognizes an individual or individuals who have demonstrated extraordinary leadership in support of non-governmental organizations and the people they serve in the developing world. The award recognizes individuals whose work reflects leadership qualities such as initiative, courage, creativity, grace under pressure, and personal integrity.
Her outspoken leadership and commitment to women’s health and rights have been critical in improving the overall status of Yemeni women. Her tireless efforts over the years ultimately led to the creation of the Yemeni National Midwives Association, an association of more than 1,800 women dedicated to helping women throughout the country give birth safely.
In Yemen, women face enormous challenges and obstacles. Young girls are often married by the age of 8 and receive little more than a primary school education.
A Yemeni woman will bear, on average, seven children. One in every 19 women dies during pregnancy, making Yemen’s maternal and infant mortality rates among some of the highest in the world. In this context, the role of the midwife is critical not only for helping women survive childbirth, but also improving the overall health and wellbeing of mothers and children.
Under Ms. Saleh’s leadership, the association’s membership has increased by 100 percent in the last year alone. The association has also increased the support of the Yemeni Government for Women’s Health Services and has given midwives a voice in the design of national plans for improving women’s overall health. “Pathfinder is honored to work with and support such as exemplary individual,” Pathfinder President, Dan Pellegrom said. “Ms. Saleh’s courage, tenacity and commitment have made a real difference in countless women’s lives in Yemen.”
Ms. Saleh joined Pathfinder International in 2004 as a coordinator for the Yemen Basic Health Services Program, a three-year, USAID- funded project aimed at improving maternal and child health in some of Yemen’s most underserved areas. In this role, Ms. Saleh is leading efforts to train community midwives to implement outreach services in rural areas and is calling for the establishment of private midwifery practices at the national level. In a country where most women, including midwives, are culturally-bound to the home and require male companions to travel, the establishment of private practices is essential to increasing access to women’s health services in remote locations, as well as increasing women’s overall participation in civil society.