Gracia Raina Foundation: Empowering Women by Addressing Crucial Adolescent and Maternal Health  

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Priyanka C. Raina

In recent years, India has progressed rapidly and is poised to become a trillion-dollar economy. An emerging superpower, India has performed well on many parameters, including general health. As a nation, we have seen a rapid decline in infant mortality, maternal mortality and total fertility rates. However, when it comes to women’s health in specific, we need to make progress in direct proportion to our economic growth. Women, especially those in the lower economic strata, are more vulnerable in basic health necessities and access to the same.

Despite our best attempts, India ranks high on the maternal mortality rate, with over a lakh women dying in childbirth every year. Our country also struggles with child mortality, ranking high in the global index of infant and child deaths under five years of age. This is due to the lack of access to good health and nutrition. Forty-three per cent of children under this age group are underweight. This is directly related to the nutrition intake and health of a mother. Underweight and malnourished mothers pose a higher risk of having children who are stunted or underweight.

Women in their adolescent years are the most vulnerable. They can have a strong health base when care and attention to their nutritional needs are provided at the right age. This is where our work begins. We guide women through different phases of their life: from adolescence to adulthood, pregnancy with a focus on the mother, infant and child, as this is the period when they go through reproductive health changes.

Seeing these alarming numbers, we realised the need to empower women and address these issues at the core. This led to the birth and founding of the Gracia Raina Foundation (GRF) in 2017. Our focus is to help women, who are on the cusp of their reproductive phase, with knowledge and awareness that further enables them to make improved reproductive and maternal health-oriented decisions.

Women in their adolescent years are the most vulnerable. They can have a strong health base when care and attention to their nutritional needs are provided at the right age. This is where our work begins. We guide women through different phases of their life: from adolescence to adulthood, pregnancy with a focus on the mother, infant and child, as this is the period when they go through reproductive health changes. At GRF, we use culturally-sensitive awareness programmes as one of the tools to promote maternal wellness; further assisting women to achieve dignity-based maternal-child care. Through our initiative, we ensure that young mothers are well informed about pregnancy-related challenges, resulting in happy and healthy childbirths. We also work with adolescents and relay age-appropriate information in a comfortable environment on puberty and reproductive health.

To reach our goal and achieve what we have undertaken, we work with local partners, doctors, health workers and communities to mobilise and promote healthy behaviours and practices. Currently, we focus on the following programmes:

RightAGE – India has 253 million adolescents, more than any other country and equivalent to the combined populations of Japan, Germany and Spain. 33.6 per cent of India’s population is born of adolescent pregnancy. One in four Indian women (26.8 per cent) is married before 18, and 7.8 per cent of women aged 15 to 19 are pregnant or are mothers, according to the latest available NFHS data. To ensure adequate reproductive health education for adolescents, we work closely with health experts and school counsellors to create a comprehensive guide that would assist young minds in taking prudent decisions.

Every Mother We focus on educating expectant mothers by providing them with a platform where they can interact with healthcare professionals who offer in-depth knowledge, resulting in enhanced quality of care mothers need for themselves and their newborns. Our Every Mother programme focuses on educating expectant mothers about their pre and postnatal stages and beyond, with information. We believe that in-depth knowledge and understanding of the subject will aid them in enhancing the standard and quality of care they need for themselves and their newborns. This programme focuses on knowledge of labour, delivery, postpartum recovery, baby care, lactation awareness, family planning and contraception and maternal mental wellness. 

The Gracia Raina Foundation is committed to improving the lives of women because we believe that the health of a nation is eventually rooted in the health of its women. They have an innate ability to build and create. By nurturing their needs at the opportune time and working from the grassroots is what is needed to bring about a family health revolution. 

Gender Sensitisation – Evidence suggests that male involvement is beneficial to maternal health in terms of increased maternal access to antenatal and postnatal services. Our soon to start Gender Sensitisation programme aims to regularly collaborate with the male partners to gender sensitise them on how to make their partners’ lives comfortable by understanding maternal care and childbirth better, and lending support.

Prison Health Programme – We have started conducting health programmes in prisons to create awareness on important aspects concerning women’s health. For example, we educate and guide them on topics like contraception, STDs, menstruation, health and hygiene, breast cancer and cervical cancer awareness, to name a few. This is followed by a check-up with a gynaecologist and a paediatrician for children who live in prisons with their mothers. So far, we have conducted these health workshops in four prisons across three States. We plan to expand this further.

The Gracia Raina Foundation is committed to improving the lives of women because we believe that the health of a nation is eventually rooted in the health of its women. They have an innate ability to build and create. By nurturing their needs at the opportune time and working from the grassroots is what is needed to bring about a family health revolution. 

Testimonials

Dr O.P. Mishra
IPS, IG/Prisons/Chandigarh

On behalf of Department of Prisons and Correctional Administration, Chandigarh, I would like to thank Gracia Raina Foundation for organising an impactful, interactive workshop on reproductive health and mental wellbeing for the female inmates of Model Jail, Chandigarh. I am sure this interaction will help the inmates in overcoming stress and improve their overall health.

Dr Upneet Lalli
Deputy Director, Institute of Correctional Administration

Women’s health issues are important, even inside the prison. Her right to access healthcare facilities should remain intact. I am happy that we have taken a step towards discussing incarcerated women’s reproductive and mental health, which has remained a neglected area of concern for several years. We are indeed hopeful that with Gracia Raina Foundation, we will be able to address this issue and take suggestive measures based on the study for improving the lives of women in custody. Our first few workshops at the jails received very positive feedback from the inmates and staff. I hope that we can take the programme forward to more prisons as well.

Manoj Sinha
Principal, Aryabhatta College, Delhi

It is high time that institutions that deal with young adults take responsibility for making young, curious girls into responsible and informed adults. The technological revolution of information coupled with adolescent curiosity puts many psychological and sociological pressures on the students, sometimes making it difficult for them to choose right from wrong. GRF comes as an aid to address the medical and emotional stress. The module is well-designed to suit the needs of college-going students as it highlights the physical dangers that may prove life-changing if not taken care of in an age of sexual liberation that is being popularised by societal conditions and carried by the media in the name of individualism. While women have to be cautious and careful, men have to learn to be more sensitive and responsible. Well done, Gracia Raina Foundation!

Renu Tomar
Principal, Jawaharlal Samrak Kannaya Inter College, Muradnagar, Meerut

Would you believe if I told you I did not know many things about our reproductive system? The Right AGE workshop conducted by GRF was very beneficial. With the help of health experts, about 1,000 adolescent girls were educated on the functions of a female reproductive system, the complexities of a woman’s anatomy and how one can take care during difficult days. Not only did the girls benefit from it, but also the teachers and mothers attending the event. I believe that the subject GRF has chosen for its RightAGE programme is crucial because, even today, topics such as menstruation are often discussed in hushed tones. Our society needs to talk about this. Girls do not need to feel shy or hesitant any longer. So, thank you very much for organising this special workshop. We hope we can continue our association and have more such workshops organised in the future.

Anju Chawdhary
Principal, Govt. Senior Secondary School, Ropar, Punjab

Thank you GRF for organising your RightAGE workshop in Punjab, where reproductive and sexual health issues are worrying. It is crucial, and we need plenty of such workshops. It will help our society rise above the taboo, shame, stigma attached to reproductive and sexual health. Everyone needs to have a clear idea about what it is like when a woman bleeds, contraception, pregnancy process, etc. The workshop touched upon these topics and more; raising awareness among our school kids, helping them develop a wise approach towards women’s health issues. We all learned so much from the workshop. Thank you for doing this with us.

Priyanka Chaudhary Raina is Co-Founder, Gracia Raina Foundation.