As I mark International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, I am reminded of a young group I met in September 2019 when I honoured the invitation of the Independent Midwives Association of Namibia, and also of the efforts and aspirations of a young traditional cultural dance group I met at the United Nations headquarters in New York that same year.
These encounters exemplified the role of indigenous women and girls in the preservation and transmission of traditional knowledge, particularly when it comes to health and societal wellbeing.
Indigenous knowledge in the sphere of health, often first present as traditional birth attendants, who aim to fill the gap of inadequate or completely absent public services. From providing their communities with essential information on sexual and reproductive rights to #GBV, generations of indigenous women have passed down critical skills and practices to help mitigate the effects of inaccessible healthcare.
The Wellbeing Foundation Africa and I aim to empower indigenous women and girls with training and modern practices to shape the evolution of trusted traditional wisdom with modern techniques being applied for good. The transmission of ancestral knowledge and advocacy which takes place as the carers of society are crucial, but we must also equip these knowledge keepers, leaders and human rights defenders with contemporary education, #WASH, and autonomy to combat harmful traditional practices, and tackle the rise of intersecting levels of discrimination based on gender, ethnicity and socioeconomic status.
At home in Nigeria, our WBFA community midwives continue to work towards achieving the #SDG2030 Goals and WHO Global Targets 2025, to improve maternal, infant and young child health outcomes, while viewing wellbeing as both an individual and a collective right, strongly determined by community, land and the natural environment, as conceptualised by indigenous peoples. We must acknowledge, strengthen and support indigenous midwifery through healthy policy and integration while creating opportunities for upskilling and reskilling.
Let’s reclaim the role of these heroines!