Women and girls face unique health related challenges in many parts of the world.
- Around 3 million girls face Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) every year, causing them pain, and probable health problems down the road.
- Women who suffer from disabilities are often disregarded and denied the rights to meet their medical, physical, and mental needs.
- Giving birth is one of the most dangerous things that women and especially girls in the developing world will ever do. Many will face complications like fistulas, infection, stillbirths, heavy bleeding, and even death.
Too often, women in many countries around the world are treated as second-class citizens when it comes to their health. They may not be taken seriously by the doctor, may be placed last on a doctor’s priority list, or may not have access to medical care due to long distances to the hospital, lack of money to pay for treatment, or a lack of knowledge of their medical needs.
Female Genital Mutilation
This deep-seated cultural practice includes the cutting of parts or the entire external female genitalia with the goal of minimizing a woman’s sexual pleasure to ensure she will not participate in extramarital sex. Cutting can occur immediately after birth, or into a girls early teenage years. This practice persists since refusing to have your daughter cut can lead to an inability to find a husband for her or even becoming ostracized from the community. In order for a community to abandon this inhumane practice, they must all change together.
The World Health Organisation states that Female Genital Mutilation “can cause severe bleeding and problems urinating, and later cysts and infections, as well as complications in childbirth and increased risk of newborn deaths.” Approximately every 10 seconds a girl undergoes Genital Mutilation, but one organization is making strides towards ending it for good.
Through it’s many programs Tostan “empowers African communities to bring about sustainable development and positive social transformation based on respect for human rights.” Their program to end FGM is built around Community Empowerment Program Sessions that create a space for guided discussion and education about the harms of FGM. Instead of offending communities by criticizing the practice, these sessions allow communities to gain a clearer picture of the consequences of FGM and then come to their own conclusion about whether to continue it or not. Since Tostan began their work, over 8000 communities in Africa have abandoned the practice. Donors can put together $12,000 to adopt a village of about 800 people and put them through the 3 year Community Empowerment Program. To see and support their work visit www.tostan.org/.
Today in the developing world, the most dangerous thing a woman can do is give birth. The World Health Organization estimates that there is one maternal death every minute worldwide and 99% of these deaths occur in the developing world – that’s five jumbo jets worth of women dying in labour every day. If you are a pregnant women in Sub-Saharan Africa you have a 1-in-22 chance of dying in childbirth. If you are a pregnant women in Niger you have a 1-in-7 chance. So, why is childbirth so much more dangerous for poor women? There are a number of reasons…
- Women’s medical needs are not as high a priority as men’s medical needs. So if life saving medical care is needed during childbirth, families are less likely to spend high amounts saving the life of a women, when she does not have to the same opportunities to work and make money for the family that a man does. In countries were women are considered as equally important to a family, maternal mortality is low. But in countries where the opposite is true, maternal mortality skyrockets.
- Families eager to marry off their young teen daughters, a common occurrence in the third world, set them up for complications in childbearing. Young mother’s pelvis’ have often not grown large enough to accommodate childbirth, opening the door to birthing complications that, if not properly navigated by health care professionals, can lead to severe injury or death to both mother and baby.
- Many of the reasons women die in childbirth are easily prevented or treated, however mothers often lack access to the necessary healthcare facilities due to distance, inability to pay for said services, cultural beliefs, lack of knowledge of their medical needs, or a complete lack of facilities in their place of residence.
Perhaps the most heartbreaking complication that can arise for mothers in the third world is the obstetric fistula. Fistulas are often known for being a byproduct of militant rape, however the more common and lesser known cause is childbirth. Fistulas occur when labour becomes obstructed and proper steps are not taken to ensure the child is safely delivered. In the developed world, if your labour becomes obstructed, doctors perform a C-Section and mother and baby end up safe and healthy. But every year between 50,000-100,000 women do not receive proper care and the baby is trapped in the birth canal. Surrounding tissue begins to die and rot away, the baby’s life is lost, and a hole forms in the mothers birth canal. Fistulas leave a women incontinent, and the smell of the rotted tissue and loss of bowel control are so intense that, the majority of the time, women are abandoned by their villages and left in the wilderness to die or be eaten by wild animals since the burden of keeping them alive is too great for their families.
Just imagine your 14 year old daughter, sister or friend severely injured, having lost their child, then abandoned and left to die a violent death… and remember that it all could have been prevented by the common C-Section procedure. To us in the Western world this is simply unfathomable, but for the 2 million young women living with fistulas in Sub-Saharan Africa alone, this could be their fate.
Organization: Save the Mothers
Save the Mothers is an international charitable organization equipping African leaders to save the lives of women and babies. They do this by educating people about the importance of Maternal Health through Uganda Christian University and empowering Ugandans through education to implement programs in their own communities that promote maternal health. They also promote “Mother Baby Friendly Hospital Initiatives” which work to equip hospitals with simple tools such as running water and medical gloves to give them the capacity to accommodate women during and after labour. You can see and support their work at www.savethemothers.org
Book: The Game Changers by Dr. Jean Chamberlain Froese – Save the Mothers
“The Game Changers provides a glimpse of the transformation taking place in the lives of individuals and in communities across East Africa, thanks to the Save the Mothers program.”