05 January, 2009

I so don't understand...

IRIN News recently did a story on preventing fistulas. A fistulas is "an abnormal connection between the lower portion of your large intestine — your rectum — and your vagina. Contents of your bowel can leak from the fistula, meaning you might pass gas or stool through your vagina." (Mayo Clinic). It can happen during childbirth or after severe sexual trauma or from certain medical conditions.

The rate of women suffering from fistulas in the developing world is alarming! According to the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), "nearly two million women - mostly in sub-Saharan Africa and parts of South Asia - have the condition" Fistulas can be fixed by surgery, but many of the women who have it can't afford it. The stigma with having fistulas is humiliating. It often appears that the women have soiled themselves, they can't control their bowel movements because it comes through their vagina. The stench from the infection is severe. They are further pushed from their communities.

When it happens to little girls who have been sold into marriage it is traumatizing. The girls are often left to deal with it alone. The girl in the IRIN story almost died in childbirth.

Many women in the DRC suffer from fistulas after they are raped. They affects of it make their shame (which is compounded by the fact that rape is being used a weapon of war, the rapes in the DRC are very brutal physically and mentally) more severe. They are isolated from society after they have lost so much and have a consistent, uncontrollable reminder of their violation.

So how do we avoid fistulas?

"Specialists say fistula can be best avoided by stopping early marriages, delaying the age of first pregnancy and by timely access to good emergency obstetric care. They also say education is key."

Just another reason why female education and empowerment needs to be made more of an agenda in the developing world. In most of the world women are illiterate and kept in the home. I read somewhere that men keep women from being educated to keep them subservient - and it's true... But don't turn this into a feminism thing. Educating your daughters doesn't mean she's going to abandon her "duties" and force you to fend for yourself (though would that be wrong?!?). It might mean you can't abuse, neglect, take advantage of her and treat her like a possession instead of a person. It might mean she starts to assert the rights she has as a human being... imagine!

Women deserve respect and they deserve protection in situations where a culture does not seem prone to give it to them. Women should at least be given education on their bodies, how to care and protect them. And more needs to be done to curb marrying off little girls the second they have their periods.

It's just such an unnecessary condition for any women to suffer from...