Dar es Salaam,

My name is Helen Witte and I work as an advisor in a GIZ health project in Tanzania. We are working to improve medical care for mothers and newborns in the Tanga region by cooperating with 20 health care facilities. 

As a trained midwife with experience in delivery rooms in African countries, I am passionately committed to the rights of women and children. Originally, I wanted to study medicine, but after an internship in an obstetric ward I decided to train to be a midwife. The birth of a child is a magical moment, and it is a privilege to be able to give people a good start in life. After my training in Hanover, I wanted to learn more about obstetrics in Africa. I registered as a volunteer with the Methodist Church in Mozambique and started out working in a delivery room. I later worked for Doctors Without Borders in Pakistan and Save the Children in Sierra Leone.

If you have ever witnessed how many women and children die during childbirth in these countries due to the lack of equipment and poorly trained staff, you cannot simply ignore it. But the worst thing for me was the basic acceptance that this is normal. Women’s lives are considered less valuable. Many health care systems are not geared towards ensuring that mothers survive, and the political will to change this is often lacking.

Although I was able to save the lives of many women in the delivery room, I was unable to change the structural problems at all. In order to do more, I decided to study health policy in London. After graduating, I started my career at GIZ – first as a development worker and later as an advisor in Malawi and Nepal. The work of an advisor is more abstract and includes policy advice, a lot of coordination and designing measures. I miss working as a midwife but I know I’m in the right place to change the bigger picture so that more and more women can experience a safe and comfortable birth. This includes promoting gender equality. I firmly believe that we can only reduce the high number of preventable maternal deaths if society places a greater value on women’s lives.

I like being in Tanzania, as there is a good basis for working on this issue here. For example, there is a woman head of state and a woman health minister. Within GIZ, too, we are working to make gender equality an even greater priority. For instance, we have brought various sectors together in a ‘gender cluster’. In the cluster, we can approach women’s empowerment in various different ways and work across projects even more. An example of this is the cooperation between our health project and the Access to Justice for Women and Children project. We are working together to improve support provided to survivors of gender-based violence. We have developed a comprehensive portfolio that covers frontline medical care, evidence-gathering and legal advice. In doing so, we are implementing feminist development policy in Tanzania. 

And at home, too, my husband and I are an example of how gender roles can be lived out in different ways. While I am focusing more on my work at the moment, he takes care of the children and the housework.

Best regards,

Helen Witte

June 2024