Fashion awards for infertility awareness

The Merck Foundation, an organisation whose objective is to address infertility issue in Africa, has launched fashion awards in Malawi.

In partnership with the First Lady Gertrude Mutharika, the awards aspire to motivate fashion designers to think outside the box and break infertility stigma in the country.

First Lady Gertrude Mutharika with Merck Foundation CEO Rasha Kelej

Merck Foundation chief executive officer (CEO) Dr. Rasha Kelej says the organisation believes that art can make a difference by bringing about a positive change as it has the capacity to make the problem felt, which further stimulates emotions and leads to engagement and action.

“I love art and fashion. I strongly believe that art plays a significant role in raising awareness about sensitive topics like infertility, hence can contribute significantly to break the stigma around infertile women in Africa.

“One of the great challenges today is that we often feel untouched by the problems of others, even when we can easily do something to help.

Giving people access to data most often leaves them feeling overwhelmed and disconnected, not empowered and poised for action.

Added Kelej: “This is where art can make a difference. Moreover, Africa being the hub for all forms of art, it was very important to reach people using their natural settings. This will help people give their best to help reach out to the voiceless.”

The awards are open to all fashion designers from Malawi and rest of Africa, according to the CEO.

“Applicants are requested to send the sketches of their creations as an attachment on e-mail: They should mention the subject: Merck Foundation Fashion Awards and add a name, e-mail and contact number.

The last date of submissions is December 31. The best two submissions will be selected by Merck More Than a Mother committee where winners will be granted $500 each to execute their designs,” she said in an interview.

The First Lady is the Malawi ambassador of Merck Foundation’s Merck More Than a Mother, an initiative within the foundation that aims to empower infertile women through access to information, education and health and by changing mindsets.

The awards have also been introduced in Ghana and Zambia with plans to scale up to many other African countries starting with Rwanda and Nigeria.

“My dream is to start these awards in Malawi immediately in partnership with fashion institutions and Fashion Week in the country.

“Through these initiatives we wish to remind our communities that women are more than Just mothers and men are more than just fathers.

“It takes both a man and a woman to have a child,” she explained.

The news has excited fashion designers in the country as some have started working on their concepts.

“This interesting development and actually what makes it worthwhile is the fact it has a deeper meaning; demystifying issues surrounding infertility in a country where oftentimes, women are blamed if a couple is failing to have children.

“It’s challenging creative wise as the garments must make sense to a story,” said the designer behind Scorpii brand.

Besides the fashion awards, Merck Foundation has worked with a number of African musicians to produce songs as part of raising awareness on infertility issues.

“We have launched 15 local songs with famous singers from Zambia, Burundi, Ghana, Rwanda, Kenya, Sierra Leone and Gambia to raise awareness about male infertility and to break the stigma around infertility in Africa.

“I will release those songs to all African TV and radios in the second half of 2019 to create a culture shift. We plan to do something similar in Malawi very soon.

“Another project in the pipeline is Pan African song with six singers from six countries of west and east Africa,” stated Kelej.

In many cultures in Africa, infertility is a huge stigma and women are solely blamed for it. According to WHO data 2016, one in every four couples in Africa and developing countries are infertile which means that 180 million couples are infertile.

Through this campaign, Merck Foundation would be providing embryology and clinical training on fertility specialty for candidates in Malawi and will continue this programme in partnership with the First Lady’s office and Ministry of Health to improve access to quality and equitable fertility care in the country. n

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