WESTBURY, New York — Pathfinder International is a global nonprofit organization that works in more than 20 countries across the world. Though Pathfinder International’s main mission is to promote the advancement of “sexual and reproductive health and rights worldwide,” the organization also focuses on global issues such as maternal and infant health, gender inequality and HIV/AIDS. By addressing these issues, Pathfinder International significantly contributes to the fight against global poverty. The Borgen Project spoke with Laurel Lundstrom, Pathfinder International’s communications director, to learn more about the organization’s efforts to empower impoverished communities globally.
Gender Inequality and Gender-based Violence
Although the world has made strides in reducing gender inequality, millions of women around the world still face discrimination, violations and marginalization that prevents them from advancing at the same pace as their male counterparts. According to the World Health Organization, one out of every three women globally has endured “either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime.”
In addition, according to data from the World Economic Forum’s 2020 Global Gender Gap Report, “women earn on average just 68% of what men are paid” for work of the same nature. According to Avert, females make up more than 50% of HIV-infected individuals globally, a consequence of “vulnerabilities created by unequal cultural, social and economic status.” In regions where gender inequality is pervasive, maternal mortality rates are significantly higher. For instance, in 2017, about 66% of global maternal deaths took place in sub-Saharan Africa, a region that is not only impoverished but also rife with gender inequality.
An Interview with Laurel Lundstrom
Since its official founding in 1957, Pathfinder International has shown its commitment to global poverty reduction through community-based, locally-driven programs that empower people around the world. In an interview with The Borgen Project, Pathfinder International’s Communications Director Laurel Lundstrom explains that the circumstances she witnessed while working in rural areas in Niger motivated her to join Pathfinder International’s mission to provide access to necessary care to some of the world’s most vulnerable people. She shared that the lack of electricity, clean water and basic health supplies across rural areas in Niger brought to light gaping global health care disparities.
Lundstrom met many women in Niger who married in early adolescence and are now mothers of up to six children yet lack basic resources and access to essential services. Lundstrom realized that access to quality health care and other essential resources could bring a world of opportunity to these women. For this reason, Pathfinder International puts girls and women at the center of many of its efforts.
“It is widely known that improving women’s lives has ripple effects. Where investments in women and girls [are]significant, such as microfinance and girls’ education, entire sectors leap forward with progress,” says Lundstrom. Pathfinder International’s efforts ensure that “women have real agency and can make the most important decisions in their lives.”
Taking a comprehensive and holistic approach, Pathfinder International’s programs work with individuals, communities and health systems. Lundstrom says that “women are so often the fabric that holds communities together” and are often de facto caregivers and frontline health workers in their families and communities. Lundstrom believes that “with the right support, [organizations can engage women] further to lead positive change in their communities and countries.”
Empowering Girls and Women
Pathfinder International is able to positively affect the lives of countless women through its advocacy and projects. Its program Preventing Child Marriage in Cabo Delgado runs in Mozambique from 2020-2023 through the support of the U.S. Agency for International Development. The program aims to uphold the rights of girls and help them reach their full potential. The program accomplishes this by reducing the prevalence of child marriages, early marriages and non-consensual marriages “in the Palma and Mocimboa da Praia districts of Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado Province.”
In addition, the program works to reduce “violent extremism” in areas affected by conflict. According to data from 2011, in Cabo Delgado, about 18% of females between 20 and 24 are in a marriage by just 15 years old and about 61% marry or reside with a partner by age 18. The Preventing Child Marriage in Cabo Delgado program aims to help young people secure a brighter future and inspire meaningful change.
In Ethiopia, Pathfinder International has a program that focuses on the prevention of cervical cancer. Lundstrom says that more than 300,000 women die annually due to cervical cancer, a very preventable disease that occurs mostly in low-income areas. For the last decade, Pathfinder International has worked with the Ethiopian government to offer early screenings and treatment for cervical cancer. However, one innovative project, Addis Tesfa, is reaching HIV-positive females, who are four to five times more likely to develop cervical cancer. Noting the program’s success, in 2016, Pathfinder decided to implement its cervical cancer prevention efforts in several other sub-Saharan nations, such as Mozambique, Nigeria, Tanzania and Burundi.
Lundstrom says the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted essential health care services worldwide. To ensure continuity of services, training and programs, Pathfinder adapted its strategies while assisting health systems to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
Discussing some of these adaptations, Lundstrom says Pathfinder International incorporated gender-based violence awareness and support information into COVID-19 education and communication resources. In addition, these adaptations included “leveraging technology to maintain maximum access to essential services, such as virtual and phone-based care.” For instance, the organization continued program counseling services through digital platforms.
A Focus on Gender Equality
Pathfinder International puts gender equality at the center of all its efforts. Staying true to this commitment, in 2019, the organization implemented the Gender Equity Initiative (GEI) to assess gender equity both within the organizations and across all global programs. The assessment prompted the organization to develop the Gender Equity Strategy (2021-24), which outlines several goals for gender equality progress. Among others, the strategy’s goals include employing “more female and nonbinary candidates” across all career levels and developing gender equality prerequisites for all contractual agreements and partnerships.
Pathfinder International’s success stories provide a clear indication of the organization’s extensive reach and impact. With ongoing efforts to empower and uplift communities while putting gender equality at the forefront of all programs, the organization makes significant contributions to reducing global poverty.
– Andre Silva