Promoting Informed Choices for Women Regarding Reproductive Health
In September 2002, Population Services International (PSI) Romania, a health care product social marketing organization and partner of the Romanian Family Health Initiative (RFHI), began a series of educational workshops for women. The purpose of the workshops was to inform women between the ages of 17 and 40 about the types of contraceptive methods available, and encourage them to make informed choices about reproductive health and family planning.
The workshops were held in places with a high concentration of women workers, which were, for the most part, textile factories. RFHI arranged the workshops with factory representatives and invited women who were interested in the topic. At its peak, the program ran in 20 counties; with medical representatives conducting an average of 20 workshops per month, with an average of 15 women in each workshop. "The fact that so many women were willing to come to work early, stay late, or use their lunch break to hear what we have to say indicated that what we were providing was important," said Dr. Anka Purdel, one of the nine medical doctors who led the courses. This was especially true for Vera, a 23-year-old garment worker who attended a workshop in Bucharest. "It was very good for me to hear that I have choices and that I am responsible for making the right choice for me." She added, "Of course I learned some of this in school, but it helps so much to hear it again now that I am older and have a boyfriend, and to hear it with people like myself who probably have questions but never a good opportunity to get them answered."
The workshops lasted anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour, depending on how much time the women had and the number of questions asked. "Most of the questions regarded birth control pills, because there was still a lot of misinformation about this product as it was not available for many years," according to program manager Dr. Mario Grigorascu. "But," Dr. Grigorascu added, "we also got questions about the calendar method, IUDs, condoms, everything. As long as the participants were comfortable with the presenter, we got it all!"
The workshop facilitators were medical doctors who explained to participants that they had both the right and responsibility to make informed decisions about their reproductive health. The doctors explained all methods of family planning and protection from sexually transmitted diseases, including abstinence, use of condoms, birth control pills, IUDs, and spermicides. The doctors stressed that women should have control over the method they choose, and that they should be responsible in making this decision. "Part of our motivation was to decrease the number of abortions, because we feel that number is too high," said Dr. Grigorascu. "Since the fall of communism, birth control products have been available but people still are hesitant to use them, and we wanted to change that. These workshops gave us the perfect opportunity to do just that."
In the end, 6,000 workshops were held, attended by more than 105,000 women in twenty districts. "The whole point was to empower women with knowledge to make reasonable and responsible choices about their sex lives," emphasized Dr. Purdel.
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