2020 in review: an extraordinary year

emma.clarkgratton@mariestopesinternational.org.au Cambodia, Empower, News, Stories

It is safe to say that 2020 was a year unlike any other. January saw devastating bushfires rampage through Australia, burning 47 million acres of land and leading to the loss of 34 lives. Many thought this would be the defining tragedy of 2020, but by February there was growing concern over a fast-spreading strain of coronavirus named COVID-19.  

By March, the term ‘lockdown’ entered our vocabulary. International borders were closed as governments and health officials worked to contain the outbreak. The MSI Australia team left our office in Melbourne’s CBD to work from home. We haven’t been back since. 

Like many people around the world, we have pivoted to 100% remote working; relaxed our definition of ‘work attire’ and worked at our kitchen benches while blurring the line between work and home lifeWhile our support staff are lucky enough to be able to work safely from home, many of our colleagues across the globe worked tirelessly on the frontlines. Sexual and reproductive healthcare needs don't stop during a pandemic, so neither did we. 

Despite working in extraordinary conditions, once the pandemic hit our region we moved quickly to support our programs across Asia Pacific in managing clinic closures, a shutdown of outreach services and supply chain issues. We worked hard to make sure our clients could access reproductive healthcare services throughout the pandemic. Our country programs worked with government health departments to make sure sexual and reproductive health services were recognised as essential services during the pandemic. 

We updated our clinical infection protection protocols to protect staff and clientsand ensured our country programs had access to necessary PPE, despite some PPE suppliers refusing to stock our sister organisation Marie Stopes Australia due to the stigma around abortion provision.  

Over the coming year, we will continue to work hard to mitigatthe ongoing shadow effects of this pandemic: the girls who missed school during lockdowns, and will struggle to go back to complete their education, the women who had unplanned pregnancies during the pandemic; others who suffered sexual and reproductive health complications and were unable to access care, and the families whose lives and plans were disrupted temporarily or changed irreparably.  

The global economy took a beating, with stock market crashes and global supply chains affected by border closures. People took to singing from their balconies, clapping healthcare workers and learning to make sourdough.  

We worked with NGOs across Australia to campaign to #EndCOVIDForAll, encouraging our government to provide vital support to our vulnerable neighbours. In October, we welcomed $304.7 million boost to the Pacific in the Federal budget, with a focus on gender and health. This will assist in making sure those most vulnerable to the ongoing effects of the pandemic – women and girls – are given access to life-saving essential health services. 

The world was brought together as we battled a global pandemic, but a nail-biting US election caused ideological divisions. After days of deliberation, we saw Joe Biden and Kamala Harris win on a historic ticket, with Harris being the first Black, first South Asian and first woman elected to the vice presidency. After four years of President Trump’s anti-women rhetoric and dangerous global health practices, a Biden/Harris administration is a win for reproductive health.  

While the pandemic is currently well controlled across many parts of the world, our global office in the UK and programs across Europe, Africa and Latin America continue to be affected. This year has made it clear that we can’t know what the future will hold, but as always, we will keep working hard across Asia Pacific and the world to give girls, women and their families access to life-changing healthcare. 


$15 can give a woman or girl a year of contraception, giving her one more year to:

…be a girl
…complete her education
…pursue a career
…run her own business
…or spend time with her family

Donations over $2 are tax-deductable within Australia. Donations are in Australian dollars.


Read more stories

A partnership between Marie Stopes International Cambodia (MSIC) and a gender-focused social enterprise is supporting entrepreneurial women to achieve their business goals 

Since it began in January 2019, the MS Ladies Business Training Program – a partnership between MSIC and SHE Investments – has supported the training and coaching of 117 private health providers, known as MS Ladies, to help develop their businesses. By accessing this program MS Ladies are better able to provide high-quality reproductive health services to women in their communities.   

The business training workshops covered goal setting, staff management, business expansion and customer service. Twenty MS Ladies signed up for individual business coaching sessions.  

Several participants stated that after the training, they had a better understanding of the value of their business’s products and services, including how they should price the services and how customers might see the value in different products and services that they can offer. 

“My business revenue increased by 20 per cent because I improved my skills in attracting new customers and adding new services into my business,” said Mao Thida. 

Based on their prior experience supporting and training women entrepreneurs, SHE Investments identified recruiting, managing and retaining staff as high concerns for female business owners in Cambodia. Gender norms and family expectations were also noted by many participants during the training session as challenges to the running of their businesses. 

One participant said, “Even if female business owners have ambitious career goals, they are still expected to rear their children and fulfil household chores, which puts a lot of pressure on them as they have to juggle their professional and personal lives. “  

Due to family responsibilities, several MS Ladies were unable to attend all the sessions, leaving gaps in their training. To help address this, there was flexibility for participants to attend make-up sessions during subsequent training sessions. Participants also had access to phone mentoring and coaching sessions, so they could choose a time that worked with their family responsibilities.  

The training sessions also revealed that it was very common for women to not pay themselves a salary from their business. However, by the end of the training, they committed to begin paying themselves, improving their financial management by separating business and family money, and implementing new financial management processes such as budgeting and tracking expenses.  

Khol Sreyneth, a participant in the program, said, “I feel much better in managing business budgeting and I have started to pay myself and my husband a salary.”  

A post-training survey showed that:  

  • 50% set their business goal and applied their action plans after their training 
  • 60% felt they had “improved their relationships” with customers, and were offering higher quality services 
  • 70% continue to track their household expenses 
  • 50% are now doing a monthly budget for their households 
  • 60% are doing basic bookkeeping for their business, tracking revenue and expenses 
  • 50% have separated household and business finances 
  • 50reported an increase in their revenue 
  • Six MS Ladies have created 11 new jobs through developing other enterprises, using the knowledge and skills they gained from the training. 

This initiative is funded by the Australian Government through The Mekong Women’s Empowerment Program (Empower), which aims to advance women’s economic empowerment by increasing the clinical capacity, business skills and financial independence of entrepreneurial health providers in Cambodia, Vietnam and Myanmar.