We invited HER Global Network to our residence to launch the news about our podcast series in Zambia hosting Dr. Beatrice Bergdahl x influential creators in southern Africa.

Since the late summer evening still kept us warm we opened the doors to W/ Hoof residence courtyard to host an intimate group of authentic leaders to share drinks and finger food, while releasing the first news in season one of Empower W/sisters. Such powerful evening.

We recorded the Q&A for you to take part of the conversation here. In the picture from left, Kim Gynnerstedt (moderator), Head of communication @ HER, Beatrice Bergdahl, Doctor in Zambia, Johanna Hoof, founder W/ Hoof.

How come you decided to go to Zambia in the first place?

Beatrice answer

Since I was a child, I have always felt a special connection to Africa. At nine years old I wrote a song to different TV-shows in order to collect money for children in need and I forced my family to sign up as a support family for children around the world. As I grew up, I realized the best way to be able to help was to become a doctor. So, I fought my way into medical school, I did not have the grades required at first. Last year, we did a degree project (write a thesis on a specific subject) and I saw my chance to explore Africa, and also to learn more about my favorite subject, gynecology and obstetrics. However, the list with projects to choose from did not include any of that so I contacted every organization or embassy that I could thought of. Almost instantly a doctor from University Teaching Hospital in Lusaka answered me. He wanted me to come and find out why women in Zambia still are dying from preeclampsia (havandeskapsförgiftning), which I did. So, the fact that I ended up in Zambia was somehow random. The problems they are facing are however not random. 

Everyday 800 women around our globe die during pregnancy or delivery. Most deaths occur in Sub-Sahara, where Zambia is located. To compare different countries, you use a term called “Maternal mortality”, this is defined as death during pregnancy of 42 days after giving birth. The maternal mortality rate in Zambia 2015 was 224 deaths per 100,000 live births, this was equal to 800 deaths that year. In Sweden we have a maternal mortality rate of 4 deaths per 100,000 live births. 

Why do women in Zambia die at a greater extent? Why do women die while being pregnant or at delivery?

Beatrice answer

First, they do not attend antenatal care which makes it impossible to detect pregnancy-related diseases. They give birth unattended, without skilled personnel, then a complication may have fetal outcome. If getting pregnant unintendedly, many women decide to do an abortion. This part of Africa has the highest amount of abortions in the world. And also, the highest amount of unsafe abortions. In Zambia, abortion is legal to the 28th week of pregnancy, it is also free. Nevertheless, women decide to have an unsafe abortion which may lead to maternal death (due to infections). The high amount of abortions can be directly connected to the low usage of contraception. About 36 % of fertile women in Zambia use contraception, where injections and pills are the most common method. Contraception is considered the best way to reduce maternal mortality.

That’s how my relationship to Zambia started. I wanted to contribute to reducing maternal mortality in the country. While being down there I realized that it was so much more that needed to be done.  

What led you to think “I have to do something about this”?

Beatrice read a piece of the first episode … (to be released in October)

… This was the very moment when I decided that I had to do something. Being down there was a roller-coaster of emotions. Mostly I felt hopeless because women’s rights were violated over and over again. Women exposed to sexual violence such as this little girl were very common. After being raped you become an outcast to the family and abortion is hardly an option due to the stigma. When attending antenatal care, the husband was always with them speaking their cause, like the women was only there to fulfill the man’s needs. When giving birth they were all alone and had nothing with them except for a bucket which functioned as a toilet. The women I met exuded hopelessness as well. They were speaking very quiet, they had no impression on their faces, they just existed. Women told me that they didn’t want any more children, they could barely afford paying the education for those already at home. They told me that they were afraid of giving birth because their friend had died during the delivery. They told me that now there’s no chance that I will get an education. 

Being able to become pregnant and carry a child is a blessing, but it is also a source of vulnerability. When a girl or women becomes pregnant, she is automatically exposed to a higher risk of pregnancy-related diseases, if not informed about all of the risks, in worst case she dies. When a girl or women gets pregnant unintendedly, when not having information about her options, she is more likely to have an unsafe abortion. Therefore, women’s right to health are being violated when becoming pregnant in Zambia. If the woman has the baby, she has no choice but to stay home taking care of it. There is no time or money for her receiving an education or start her own business for example. This sentence her, and her family to a life in poverty. 

We want to give women a choice, a choice to choose when they want to have children. A life where they can choose to follow their dreams, where they can become exactly who they want to be. A life of self-determination. We want to empower women.

Did you team up to discuss solutions with the local population?

Beatrice answer

During my stay in Zambia I received a couple of new friends and we often had conversations about the issues in the country. For example, the clefts are increasing due to the fact that you have to pay for education. Those lacking education are more exposed to pregnancy-related disease, use contraception to a lower extent and perform abortion in a greater extent. They give birth at home and are therefore more likely to die giving birth. Their opinion was that people lack the information that they need to take enlightened decisions, for example only 16 % of the women can account for the legal reasons to perform an abortion. Also, they lack “the right” information, people tend to have prejudice believes for example that every contraception contributes with side effects. 

To me it is obvious that one of the solutions is providing information. Studies made on these subjects tend to point in the same direction. The idea about the podcast however was ours. We thought that it would be the best way to reach as many as possible, even those located in the bush. At the moment, podcasts are in the beginning of launching in Zambia. Apps however have proved to have a great spread in Zambia. In 2014 UNICEF released the app “The Internet of Good Things, the Girls Zone” where girls could ask questions about for example menstruation, about 450 000 people us it today. Later they did a study on how to improve the app, then the majority suggested audio files. The usage of mobile phones has increased from 2,6 million to 10,6 million, meaning 70 per cent of the population has a phone. As the usage of mobile phone increases, the demand for podcast are increasing as well. There are several benefits using podcast as a tool, studies show that it is easier to learn when listening to it. It is free for the user and the learning is not limited by people’s literacy. In Zambia 88 % of the population over 15 years are able to read. Also, we will be able to take advantage of the fact that it is anonymous. It is a great way to discuss subjects that are taboo. 

Have you run into any set backs or criticism since you started to get involved?

Beatrice answer

Of course, there are some issues that we will have to consider during the project. The biggest obstacle will be the cultural differences. For example, 40 % of the women believe that abortion is immoral. One idea is that after an abortion, the fetus will haunt the men that have sex with you. This is important for us to have in consideration while talking about the subject. Otherwise we will just be some white people telling them what to do, and we learnt from the history that that’s not the way to accomplish change. So, in order to achieve trust and relatable content, local role models will be guesting the podcast. They have different kinds of backgrounds like artist, producer, or personal trainer. One of them has started a feminist movement in Zambia and another is running a project about menstrual hygiene in one of the national parks. Their stories about the choices that they have made are meant to inspire other women to choose differently and follow their dreams. Also, we take in consideration that to accomplish sustainable change you need to have men onboard. For instance, studies show that the man has a tendency to wanting more children than the woman. Therefore, we will share a few stories where men talk about the benefits from having an equal relationship for example. 

So, you two ladies met and decided to do this podcast together. How did you two meet in the first place and what sparked the idea?

Johanna answers

We met in secondary school. I was fascinated by Beatrice directly. I came from a small town with limited perspectives about other cultures and believes. And Bea was so open minded, believed in herself and did not care about others at all. We became friends and even though we loved doing all the things you experience at sixteen, we loved to talk about dreams. I think we got attached to each other because our dreams reached a little bit further than our surroundings. I remember you wanting the be editor in chief of Vogue in New York and I wanted to be head of marketing over at Volvo (I guess Gothenburg felt far back then), I loved to follow your dreams as they evolved and your dreams and goals switched beautifully with your own development. At the end of school you wanted to win the nobel prize and now I know you are emailing with some prior winners. I think that is a wonderful way of knowing people, ask what their dreams are, and you understand your friends directions so much more. 

Bea came home from Africa having the idea with the RV, driving around providing information and installing screens in schools to be able to provide education on a distance. I had just started out With Hoof and was really fascinated about entertainment and how experiences serves us. I was interested to understand why women where not receptive to the most basic information for their health in Zambia - because the information was already there, legislation and smartphones - so I questioned if more information really was what would make a change?

Johanna, why do you believe that creating this podcast is a great way to make a difference?

Johanna answers

Let me ask you a question. What do you get your inspiration from? How come you’ve chosen your career bath or have the opinion you have? 

I think it’s because of the people in our surroundings, the movies we watch, the places we go to. Experiences becomes a bigger part of ourselves. And we get information all the time, but we’re only receptive to the things we are ready to hear or can place in our world of understanding, before that it’s unreachable or uninteresting, or unfair. I think that is why we love to hear stories, because we can see how it all started and what decisions made the results. 

Hence, we wanted to tell stories. And the stories should be from women from their own surroundings. And when you don’t want to or if it’s even considered a sin to search for certain information - we wanted to camouflage it in entertainment. Celebrities that people are inspired by. 

We asked the women in Zambia for their rolemodels and we approached some with over 1,2 million followers - and they all want to contribute. We hope this way that entertainment will be a channel to mobilize people for change. 

Who’s your target audience exactly and what is the outcome that you are expecting to get from this?

Beatrice answers

Since a podcast is available everywhere, we hope for as many as possible to listen, women and men, in Sweden and in Zambia. But our target audience is mainly fertile women in Southern Africa, perhaps mainly Zambia since we are talking about the abortion laws there. But except for that episode most people should be able to relate to the content. Women all around the world often share similar experiences but to different extent. 

Johanna answers

The outcome that we expect is for women to feel empowered. We want to give women information so that they realize that they have a choice, a choice to choose when they want to have children, for example. That they have an option not to give birth to the baby and that they have women around them that support them in their decision. We want to enable them to take responsibility for their health and demand their rights to receive good healthcare. 

Becasue when they do, they will be educated, they will get jobs, and will be able to contribute to the society, which equals out the power relationships between men and women. 

We are in dialogue with United Nation ́s food-assistance organisation about using entertainment like this to empower women, I’m going to their head office next week in Rome. Hence we will document this project and do a documentary to use this as a pilot project to get funding so we can execute it in more places in Africa and around the world.  Therefore we want to drop the podcast in a conspicuous way, with drones and period cups to make a buzz locally for the women and globally for crowdfunding. 

What kind of subjects will you be talking about?

Beatrice answers

We will record 10 episodes with different orientations on the subject reproductive and sexual health. For example, sexual health and pleasure, family planning, abortion, information about pregnancy-related diseases and how a normal delivery is supposed to be. Each episode will as I mentioned earlier have a special guest with a special and inspiring story on the subject. 

The purpose with the episode about sexual heath and sexual pleasure is to embrace women’s sexuality. In Zambia it is not obvious that you can have sex only for your own pleasure. Their body is considered a tool and are mainly exciting for men’s pleasure; therefore, it is hard to claim your right to pleasure. Women’s sexuality is taboo because it is too quiet about it. Let’s talk about it.

An episode about contraception is considered important because all of the prejudice that exists around it. Women in Zambia are especially worried about the side effects, for example gain weight, mood swings and acne. It is important to know that even though it is the same substance in it, the side effects are different. You have to try different methods before you give up. 

The episode about abortion is crucial due to the fact that they lack so much information about the subject. We have to underline that it is legal until the 28th week of pregnancy, that it is free, when you are allowed to do it and where you can do it. We have to break down the cultural issues that abortion is facing at the moment. We hope to do this by sharing women’s positive experiences when having an abortion. 

Do you feel like we have an obligation to fight for equality on a global level? I mean it feels so big, we are approximately 3,8 billion women in the world. How do you see that we can help our sisters from the other side of the world?

Beatrice answers

Is it not what sisterhood is all about? To help each other reach our full potential and our goals, even though we do not live in the same part of the world. I feel like we owe it to our sisters. Like Maya Angelou says, “Develop enough courage so that you can stand up for yourself and then you stand up for someone else”. 

Of course, it is a big project, but this will be a great start. We believe that this is the best way to reach as many as possible in an easy way. Podcasts are upcoming and they have no limits, they are global. It has never been easier to accomplish change across the entire world. 

Longterm, how do you want to see this initiative to effect global sisterhood?

Johanna answers

We want to inspire women across the globe to give yourself permission to live a big life. Step into who you are meant to be. Stop playing small. You’re meant for greater things. Our perspective is always limited by how much we know. Expand your knowledge and you will transform your mind. With today´s media platforms we can influence each other, in everything we do. 

The podcast is only the beginning of something big. We want to start a foundation with the purpose of using sisterhood to celebrate female energy, empathy and creativity. And your creative spirit need the right environment to thrive. We want to help build this environment. 

Thank you ladies.