Meet the Activists

Fighting for sexual and reproductive health and rights around the world

Background media: Photo of a woman's torso, a child in one arm and a half-empty strip of pills in her other hand.
Photo: Eleanor Farmer / Oxfam
Photo: Eleanor Farmer / Oxfam

There is a world where we are all able to enjoy our sexual and reproductive rights.

Photo: Eleanor Farmer / Oxfam

A world where we can all make decisions about our bodies in a way that is informed, fulfilling and empowered.

Background media: Photo of a young Filipina woman wearing a black and white striped shirt is looking to her right, and standing in front of a large map that is hanging on a blue wall.
Photo: Denvie Balidoy / Oxfam

But we're not all there yet.

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Photo: Eleanor Farmer / Oxfam

There are countless activists, survivors, advocates and leaders fighting to achieve this vision for all.

Background media: Photo of a young asian woman with her hair in a bun and wearing a purple t-shirt is leading a workshop with a group of approximately 15 women. The women are sitting in a circle and looking at the leader.
Photo: Caroline Leal / Oxfam

Here are some of their stories.

The Philippines is an archipelago of over 7,000 islands in Southeast Asia.

Geographical isolation, armed conflict and deeply rooted social norms make it difficult for women and girls to take control of their sexual health.

Background media: Map of the Philippines outlined in light green. A label for 'Philippines' is located on the left the map, and a label for 'Pacific Ocean' is located on the right of the map.
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Video: Krypto Trekker / Pexels

Many adolescent girls and boys do not have access to proper services and information about their sexual and reproductive health and rights as doing so requires permission from their parents. This contributes to more than 500 teenagers becoming pregnant every day in the Philippines, one of the highest rates in the world.

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Photo: Eleanor Farmer / Oxfam

But there are activists fighting for the rights of women and youth to exercise control over their own bodies. Luz, founding member of the National Rural Women's Congress in the Philippines (PKKK), is one of them.

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Video: Caroline Leal / Oxfam

With support from Oxfam's Sexual Health and Empowerment (SHE) project Opens a new window, PKKK is advocating for women's sexual and reproductive health and rights, particularly in the Indigenous communities where they work.

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Photo: Eleanor Farmer / Oxfam

According to Luz, it is thanks to this project that women and girls are starting to recognize what their bodies are capable of. In the past, even mentioning their reproductive parts was a hard thing to do.

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Photo: Eleanor Farmer / Oxfam

So far, SHE has reached over 30,000 people in the Philippines by training public health workers and promoting positive attitudes on gender and sexuality with young people and communities.

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Photo: Eleanor Farmer / Oxfam

For Luz, the fight is personal.

Background media: A woman sitting in a large gymnasium hall smiles at the camera. She wears a decorated lanyard spelling the word "SHE".
Photo: Caroline Leal / Oxfam

"I am doing this because I am a single mom. I know what it is to be a single mom and to be a mother who strives hard for her children's future. And I do not want my children to experience not having the ability to make decisions about their own bodies."

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"I sincerely look forward to the day when women are able to stand up for themselves and proudly say, 'This is me. I have the capability to do this, and I know my worth as a woman'."

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10,000 kilometres west of the Philippines, is Mozambique, a country in Southeastern Africa.

Background media: Map of the Philippines outlined in light green. A label for 'Philippines' is located on the left the map, and a label for 'Pacific Ocean' is located on the right of the map.
Background media: A busy street in Africa with cars parked on angles on the right side of the street and bright green tuk tuk coming down the street. Lining the street are overhanging trees and brightly coloured kiosks selling electronic items, clothing and food. On the left side of the street a Black woman is walking down the street holding a green bucket in her right hand and she’s wearing a grey short-sleeved t-shirt, a yellow and red, knee-length wrap skirt and light blue net over her hair. Various aged Black men are standing along both sides of the street looking in various directions.
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Photo: NooAon Photo / Shutterstock

It is one of the poorest countries in the world. Adolescent birth rates are among the highest in the world.

Background media: A Black African woman stands under a tree facing a beige, worn down maternity building. The woman is wearing a grey sleeveless shirt, long African wrap skirt and headscarf. She has her hand on her hip and is looking away from the building.
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Photo: Caroline Leal / Oxfam

In Canada, 10 maternal deaths occur for every 100,000 births.

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Photo: Caroline Leal / Oxfam

In Mozambique, it's 489 maternal deaths for every 100,000 births.

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Photo: Caroline Leal / Oxfam

At 16, Elisabeth is the mother of a 6-month old son. Before he was born, she spent six months in a women's safehouse after two young men from her community raped her.

Background media: A young Black African teen girl with short curly hair sits on a green plastic chair with her hands in her lap in an empty tile-floored room. She’s staring off into the distance and is wearing a grey, long-sleeved shirt and a colourful African traditional wrap skirt of black, yellow and blue. The walls are white and the paint is cracked and chipped near the bottom of the walls.
Photo: Caroline Leal / Oxfam

"...two boys with a machete came and said : 'if you scream I'll cut you.'"

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Photo: Caroline Leal / Oxfam

Traumatized and unsure what to do, she contacted the Núcleodas Associações Femininasda Zambézia (NAFEZA), a women's rights organization and partner of the Her Future, Her Choice project.

Background media: A close up of the young Black African teen girl’s hands while she sits in a green plastic chair on a tiled floor. Her hands are in her lap. She has short nails with chipped red nail polish. Her left hand is holding onto one of her fingers on the right hand. She’s wearing a grey long-sleeved shirt with the sleeves pushed up to her elbows and a colourful African traditional wrap skirt of black, yellow and blue.
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Photo: Caroline Leal / Oxfam

With their support, Elisabeth went to the police, filed a report and tried to get the boys arrested.

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Photo: Caroline Leal / Oxfam

But they fled and police could not find them.

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Photo: Caroline Leal / Oxfam

Soon after, Elisabeth returned to the hospital and learnt she was pregnant.

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Photo: Caroline Leal / Oxfam

NAFEZA took Elisabeth to a women's safehouse where she could recover, feel protected, have access to legal resources and counselling, and receive medical attention.

Background media: A window in a dark room with light green curtains. The curtains are open showing 2 pieces of glass framed with wood and two handles that allow the window panes to open into the room. There are white circular bars on the window. In the room is a twin bed covered with a green sheet that has a pattern of light green squiggly lines and circles and a matching pillow cover at the head of the bed. At the bottom of the bed is red, long pillow. The room is dark with only some light coming in through the window to illuminate the bed.
Photo: Caroline Leal / Oxfam

In this safehouse, women and girls like Elisabeth get vital information and support to understand their rights and exercise decision-making power over their lives and their bodies.

Photo: Caroline Leal / Oxfam

After six months at the safehouse, Elisabeth left to have the baby.

Background media: A young Black African teen with short curly hair is standing in front of a pink wall. She is smiling slightly and turned to the right. In her arms is a Black baby who is tucked up under her chin and slightly over her left shoulder. The baby is wearing a white diaper and their right arm is extended and is making a fist. The teen is wearing a grey long-sleeved shirt with the sleeves pushed up to her elbows.
Photo: Caroline Leal / Oxfam

Shortly after her son was born, she moved in with her grandparents in another village, where she is raising her child.

Photo: Caroline Leal / Oxfam

Finding out about NAFEZA and Oxfam's Her Future, Her Choice project allowed Elisabeth to be taken to the safehouse and think through what she wanted for her own life.

Photo: Caroline Leal / Oxfam

For Elisabeth, it means supporting her son, returning to school and raising awareness with other girls about their rights.

Photo: Caroline Leal / Oxfam

It is 5PM on a Thursday in Ontario, Canada.

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Video: Caroline Leal / Oxfam

Third-year Western University medical students Brintha, Claire and Dilini rush from the clinic to meet virtually.

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Video: Caroline Leal / Oxfam

They are the founders of the Black, Indigenous and People of Colour (BIPOC) Women's Health Network, one of the community-based SRHR initiatives supported by Her Future, Her Choice Opens a new window in Canada.

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Video: Caroline Leal / Oxfam

Dilini explains, "As a medical student myself, I really realized the gaps in our medical education. It really centres the voices of cis white men. We don't often get education that is really inclusive of all races and sexual and gender minorities."

Background media: An empty lecture hall that has 11 rows of wooden seats with writing surfaces attached. There are over 155 seats that go up the room. A set of stairs splits the room in half. The back wall is beige and has two electrical boxes in the middle and a dark brown door on the right side of the wall. The side wall has a large window with a wooden frame.
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Photo: Pixabay / Pexels

The idea for the initiative came during a school project, when they realized how difficult it was to find data on the healthcare experiences of Indigenous and racialized women in Canada.

Photo: Pixabay / Pexels

Without data, it is nearly impossible to make a case for impactful change.

Photo: Pixabay / Pexels

Brintha explains,"We decided to get together with colleagues across different provinces and different medical schools and create the BIPOC Women's Health Network which is an organization that is geared at improving healthcare experiences for racialized and Indigenous women. It is also geared at working upstream by re-innovating medical education and improving how we centre Indigenous and racialized women in healthcare curriculums across the country."

Background media: Three university-aged women of various skin tones sit on the grass in a semicircle. All three women are smiling and holding a notebook or laptop. There are trees around the perimeter of the yard and a brown wooden fence. It is sunny out and the women also have backpacks and water bottles beside them.
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Photo: Komal Jariwala / Oxfam

Dilini adds, "I think what ties a lot of these disparities that we see in racialized and marginalized communities is that they occur as a result of systemic discrimination and racism that we have within our health care system."

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Photo: Komal Jariwala / Oxfam

Some of the sexual healthcare disparities faced by racialized women in Canada include cultural, linguistic and economic barriers.

Photo: Komal Jariwala / Oxfam

To address these community needs, they teamed up with Women's Health in Women's hands, the only racialized women's health centre in North America.

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Video: BIPOC Women's Health Network

Claire explains, "So one of the projects that we undertook, is that we paired with a clinic in Toronto that was serving a population who were living at or below the poverty line to make these prenatal care kits that were more inclusive for this population. A lot of times when you look at a prenatal diet, it's catering to someone who has a stable financial budget, stable housing and for example, eats a typical western diet. "

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Video: BIPOC Women's Health Network

"Well, what does that look like if most of your food is coming from a food bank? Or if you're housing insecure? Or if you are a newcomer and you're not used to seeing the foods in a typical Western food guide? "

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Video: BIPOC Women's Health Network

The medical student trio's work is also welcomed by healthcare workers and students.

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Photo: Thirdman / Pexels

One of their most recent offerings include a guide for students, professors and practitioners on culturally-sensitive Two-Spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning (2SLGBTQ+) care.

Photo: Thirdman / Pexels

Looking forward, what does the BIPOC Women's Health Network hope for? An equitable healthcare system.

Photo: Thirdman / Pexels

"I really hope that in the future we're able to have folks who feel safe going to their doctor, feel safe walking to an emergency department, who don't feel the need to advocate for themselves because they know their physicians, and nurses, and other folks there looking out for them who will advocate on their behalf. I hope that we're able to create a healthcare system that is safer for all people and that is able to provide equitable care for all folks across the country."

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Background media: A Brown university-aged woman with long black hair parted on the side and wearing a ribbed black long sleeved shirt is standing outside in front of green ferns and trees. She is slightly smiling and looking directly at you.
Photo: Komal Jariwala / Oxfam

There is a place where every woman and girl has the power to decide how long to stay in school or work.

To decide whether to have children.

A place where all people, regardless of their age, race, gender identity or sexual orientation, can make informed choices about their bodies, and in turn better choices for their families, their education, their livelihoods and their happiness.

With projects like Her Future, Her Choice Opens a new window and Sexual Health and Empowerment Opens a new window, we and our partners are breaking down barriers to sexual and reproductive health, rights, information and services…

Background media: A Black woman stands by the open wooden door of a dimly lit room. She has braids down to her neck and wears a short sleeved red shirt. She is giving you her back and is looking outside at what appears to be a building across from the one she is in.
Photo: Caroline Leal / Oxfam

...while trailblazers like the BIPOC Women's Health Network are transforming the future of sexual health care in Canada from the inside out.

Background media: Three university-aged women of various skin tones sit on the grass in a semicircle. All three women are smiling and holding a notebook or laptop. There are trees around the perimeter of the yard and a brown wooden fence. It is sunny out and the women also have backpacks and water bottles beside them.
Photo: Komal Jariwala / Oxfam

There is a world where we are all able to enjoy our sexual and reproductive rights.

Background media: A Black woman stands in the middle of a room holding a toddler. She is looking at him with a smile while the toddler looks straight to your left side. The woman has short braids that fall before her ears and she wears a pink t-shirt and a traditional African textile in navy blue and beige colours with circular designs around her waist. The toddler wears a blue shirt and yellow shorts and pink and white socks. The wooden door of the room they’re standing in is open.
Photo: Caroline Leal / Oxfam

It's our future, if we act now.

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Photo: Caroline Leal / Oxfam

Join Oxfam in creating a world where all people have an equal opportunity to enjoy their sexual and reproductive rights

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In partnership with Canada

These projects are undertaken with the financial support of the Government of Canada, provided through Global Affairs Canada, and the generous Canadian public.