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International Day of Rural Women

Today, on International Day of Rural Women, we recognize the essential role that rural women and girls play in their communities. In Ethiopia, around 80 per cent of the population lives in rural areas and women provide most of the agricultural labour in these communities, ensuring food security, building climate resilience and strengthening economies.

Yet gender inequalities such as discriminatory laws and social norms restrict the full potential of rural women, leaving them falling behind men and women living in urban areas. They have increased health consequences, limited access to health and social services, barriers to education and employment and less decision-making power in their households and communities.

Woman laughing

Around 30% of rural women give birth without a skilled health worker present, increasing the chance of life-threatening complications and mother and child mortality. Devastating childbirth injuries like obstetric fistula predominantly affect rural women, leaving them incontinent and unable to work or socialise. In 93% of cases, their baby is stillborn.

Dr Catherine Hamlin dedicated over 60 years of her life to restoring the lives and dignity of more than 60,000 Ethiopian women with obstetric fistula. Repairing a woman’s fistula injury is not the end of her story. In 2002, Catherine founded Hamlin’s Rehabilitation & Reintegration Center at Desta Mender (‘Joy Village’ in Amharic) to further support women recovering from fistula injuries.

Women are offered counseling, literacy, and numeracy classes, as well as vocational and life skills training. The Hamlin team supports women to find sustainable employment upon reintegration back into their communities. In some cases, this also includes the facilitation of start-up grants to establish their own business, empowering these women to generate an income and live independently.

Woman learning farming at Desta Mender

In 2021, a new Women’s Empowerment Program was launched to provide more former fistula patients with the chance to learn at Desta Mender. This ground-breaking initiative trains 245 women every year, offering a range of opportunities including leadership and communications training, as well as small-business guidance.

Women return to their communities empowered with agency and choices – in turn empowering their community and those around them!

“If a woman is free from obstetric fistula, she’s a backbone of the family. She’s a woman. She’s a sister, a mother and a wife. The family will be productive and future generations will be productive.” – Hanna, Hamlin Midwife and Project Zero Team Leader


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All rights reserved 2023 Catherine Hamlin Foundation (R) (ABN58159647499)
Catherine Hamlin Fistula Foundation is fiscally sponsored by KBFUS (EIN582277856) and KBF Canada (RCO769784893RR0001)

Photography credits to Cameron Bloom, Nigel Brennan, Mary F. Calvert, Kate Geraghty, Amber Hooper, Joni Kabana, Johannes Remling and Martha Tadesse.

Patient names have been changed to protect the identities of those we help.