Three women wearing Afghan Red Crescent pinneys and holding drawings of a mother and child sit on the floor in a row

If you were a granny in Afghanistan, you would be one of the most influential and respected members of your community.

“Afghan grandmothers are valued authority figures,” said Justin Dell, Afghanistan country manager at the British Red Cross.

“Many younger women in rural communities have to do what others tell them to do, particularly their fathers or husbands.

“But everyone will listen to grandmothers and follow their advice.

“This includes men, many of whom are the women’s own husbands, sons or sons-in-law.”

But becoming a gran is hard

An Afghan woman and three children stand in a plain room

But if you were an Afghan grandmother, there’s a good chance you would have been a child bride.

Four in 10 Afghan girls are married by the time they turn 18 and early marriage is associated with greater risks during childbirth.

On average, you would give birth to five children. Only about 15 per cent of women in Afghanistan use contraception.

Most likely, friends and family would help you to have your babies at home.

Just 15 per cent of women in Afghanistan give birth in health facilities and there is a severe shortage of trained medical staff across the country.

This would give you a one-in-eight chance of dying in childbirth, compared to one in 8,000 in industrialised countries.

And many factors – including lack of food, clean water, vaccinations and essential drugs – make it likely that one of your children would die before turning five.

Life can be better for your grandchildren

In Afghanistan, a woman stands in front of a group of women seated in a circle holding a drawing of a mother and child

If you were a grandma in the remote Balkh province in Northern Afghanistan, though, things would be looking up.

The British Red Cross, working with our partner the Afghan Red Crescent, has formed grandmothers’ clubs where women learn how to keep themselves and their families healthy.

Here’s how the project worked in one village, Turkmanya.

First, the Afghan Red Crescent set up a village health committee. They asked the committee to put forward village grans for consideration to join a group.

Our trainers chose 20 grannies and the grandmothers’ group was born.

They started with a five-day training course on important women’s health issues including the best care for women before, during and after birth.

The grans also explored how good hygiene prevents disease and how simple things like washing hands could keep mothers and children healthy.

The group went on to have 50 meetings with village families. They explained what they had learned, and talked to people about why it was important to change.

This same process has been repeated in 15 villages in Balkh over the last four years.

Because of their respected place in Afghan society, the grandmothers have had a huge impact.

More women now give birth safely

An Afghan woman wearing a black headscarf looks at the cameraThe latest research from these community health projects shows that in 2012, a quarter of women in our project area had the help of a health worker during childbirth.

By 2016, this rose to an astonishing two thirds.

While just 17 per cent of women used modern contraception in 2012, well over half used it by 2016.

This is important because too many pregnancies too close together can damage the health of both mother and baby.

Children’s health improved, too

The figures from the community health project in 2012 also showed that 150 children out of every 1,000 born would die before their fifth birthday. This figure is nine times that of the UK.

In 2016, the number had significantly plunged to 34. Still too many – but a big step in the right direction.

And the number of babies who were breastfed and given nothing else to eat or drink until they were six months rose from 15 per cent in 2016 to 50 per cent in 2016.

This protects babies against drinking dirty water that could carry deadly germs.

After four years of working in Balkh Province, twice as many children now get the appropriate treatment for diarrhoea.

The number of parents who know what to do when their children have pneumonia has risen from 57 per cent to an amazing 96 per cent.

They now know to seek medical help and treat the infection with antibiotics, saving more children’s lives.

“Training changed my life”

Shafiqa stands with her back to the viewer talking to an Afghan Red Crescent health worker

Shafiqa, a mother of nine children, shared that before the project started she had her babies at home.

“I had no knowledge to go to the district health facility to get advice and have a safe delivery,” Shafiqa said.

“I was encouraged by the grandmother committee to attend training in reproductive health and hygiene.

“I did so and received training which changed my life.

“Since that time during my pregnancy I went to the health facilities to get vaccinations and advice about how to have a safe delivery and a healthy child.

“We thank and appreciate the project very much.”

And that’s enough to make any gran proud.