The Price of Being FemaleJul 2nd, 2010 | By Jody L Weymouth | Category: Feminism, Health, Lead Story, Politics, Society
Living in Ontario means I have been hearing all about the G8/G20 Summits taking place. I have a degree in Political Studies while my husband’s degree is in Political Economy. Needless to say, we have been glued to the news stories regarding the Summits, especially regarding security and the protests. Most of the protests leading up to the talks has centered on the Maternal Health Plan. I confess, I knew next to nothing about this. I decided to educate myself on the Maternal Health Plan.
It was at this point that literary destiny stepped in. I had heard of this book, read the rave reviews, and seen it featured on Oprah. Half the Sky by the Pulitzer Prize winning husband and wife team, Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, jumped off the library shelf and into my quivering hands. I was shocked, out-raged, and inspired. I could not put this book down.
Half The Sky deals with the three main abuses that women face. The first focuses on the sexual slave trade and forced prostitution. Gender-based violence, including honour killings and mass rape, are explored in the second section. Maternal mortality is explored in the final section. These issues are very complex and at first glance one may think that a solution is impossible. The authors, through their meticulous research, are able to show solutions that work and those that do not. This is very difficult topic but there is hope. Hope in education and micro-loans. Half The Sky shows us that we can make a difference. We may not be able to save all the girls and give them an easier life, but for each girl that is saved the world is made a richer place.
It is estimated, according to gender ratios, that approximately 107 million females are missing from the world today. That statistic sent shivers down my spine and made me so angry. I think of all the wonderful girls and women I have in my life. They have enriched not only my life and that of others; they make the world a better place. I can not imagine being denied that experience.
But in many parts of the world, being female is seen as a burden, a curse, or a reason for abuse. It is hard to relate to the lives led by millions of women the world over. I have access to education, health-care, and a say in my future. As a human being, I consider this my right. For many this is not a right, a privilege, or even a dream.
The very things that make a person a woman are often used against that woman. Every minute a woman dies a maternal death. This is shocking and outrageous. Men have walked on the moon, but women are dying slow, painful, and often needless deaths while giving birth.
Giving birth in a developed country often means a clean hospital room full of trained medical personnel. Drugs can be given to prevent pain and infection. Women are served meals in bed. Giving birth in a developing country or the third world is an entirely different experience. I can describe it, but I will not do justice to an event that is horrific. Let me tell you a story instead.
Prudence Lemokouno was a young woman who lived in Cameroon. Prudence was pregnant with her fourth child without any pre-natal care. When she went into labour, she was aided by a birth attendant who had no training. Her cervix was blocked, making it impossible for the baby to be delivered. Three days of labour were followed by the birth attendant jumping up and down on Prudence’s belly in an attempt to force the baby out. In the process, Prudence suffered a ruptured uterus. She was finally taken to a hospital seventy-five miles away from her village via motorcycle. The doctor agreed to perform an emergency caesarean but only if he was paid $100 by the family. The family could only raise $20, and so Prudence waited in a hallway receiving no medical attention. The fetus had died just after she arrived at the hospital. For three days Prudence waited in a hallway, while the decaying fetus started to poison her.
It was at this point that Nicholas D. Krisof entered Prudence’s life. The doctor explained to Nicholas that Prudence had just hours to live. Nicholas paid the remaining $80 for the surgery. It was then explained that Prudence would need a blood transfusion. The hospital had no blood bank; blood donations were very rare. Both Nicholas and his videographer were a suitable match and agreed to be her donor. More money was needed to buy the needles required for the transfusion and donation. Prudence received her transfusion and awaited surgery. The doctor, at this point, had gone home for the evening—the surgery would have to wait until morning even though Prudence had only hours left to live.
Prudence fought for her life and made it through the night, and the operation was finally performed. Twenty centimetres of her small intestine had to be removed due to a severe abdominal infection. Sadly, the antibiotics that may have been able to save her life were not available, and she received little medical care after the operation. Her stomach expanded due to infection, and three days after her operation Prudence died. She was just twenty-four.
According to the book, every minute a woman somewhere in the world dies a death similar to that suffered by Prudence. Fistulas are a common condition suffered by women as a result of violent rape or an obstructed labour. Often young girls, whose bodies are not yet ready to endure childbirth, become pregnant and have to give birth. The result is an obstructed labour. Obstructed labours don’t just affect young girls, as Prudence clearly shows. Should the obstructed birth be survived and a fistula occurs, death is often prayed for as a release from a horrific existence. Bladder and bowel control is lost. Nerve damages can occur and woman are often unable to walk. The skin on the legs is eaten away by the acid in the urine. They are shunned not only by their village, but by their own families. Often, they end up living in a hut located on the outskirts of the village. Doors are usually removed. Little food and water is provided. A slow painful death comes from starvation or by being attacked by wild animals.
There are rules in war that prevent prisoners of war from being subjected to inhumane conditions. Yet, there are no rules that prevent millions of women from enduring a life where death is often times the only escape. Fistulas can be repaired; women can learn to walk again. But, few are given this opportunity. Yes, a solution does cost money, but buckets of money are not needed to make a difference. These women pay a huge price just for performing the reproductive functions of being a woman. It is a price that should outrage the world. It is a price that the Maternal Health Plan is hoping to reduce.
The United Nations has several Millennium Development Goals; one of which is maternal health. The goal is to reduce maternal mortality by three-quarters between 1990 and 2015. Just five years remain to achieve this goal. The Maternal Health Plan is an important part in reaching this goal. Canada has ear-marked $1 billion for this important proposition.
However, Canada refuses to support abortion, taking the stand that this plan is about saving lives not family planning. In Canada, where women have choices over education, jobs, reproduction, and marriage, women also have the right to choose to have an abortion. The Canadian government has decided that women in Canada are entitled to the right to choose while women in the developing world where the simplest choices are a luxury shall be denied the right to choose an abortion that will be funded by the Maternal Health Plan. This is not meant to be a pro-life/pro-choice debate—I am simply highlighting the inequality faced by women in the third world by a highly developed nation. How will women in the developing world ever be treated any better when the governments of the developed world refuse to see them as deserving of the same rights and freedoms enjoyed by their own female citizens?
You may wonder why abortion is such a big deal in the Maternal Health Plan. There is, of course, the huge issue of maternal mortality as discussed. In the third world young girls are often sold to brothels or kidnapped to be used as sex slaves Half the Sky). Again, this is a hugely complex issue. These young girls are often forbidden from using as sort of protection during sex. Pregnancies happen. The resulting children are held as a further means to enslave women and prevent their escape. Male children are slaves of the brothels while the girls at a very young age have their virginity auctioned off. And the cycle continues. These brothels have their own supply of workers.
In much of Asia, girls are seen as a burden. Often, girls are denied by their own families the same medical care that is provided for boys. Girls are neglected to the point that they fail to thrive and die (Half the Sky). According to Nancy Qian, a development economist at Brown University, by allowing the selective abortion of one hundred female fetuses, the deaths of fifteen infant girls can be avoided. Then there is that cheap weapon of war-rape, highly prevalent in the Eastern Congo, and a devastating weapon of war that targets females.
As you see the news of the G8/G20 Summits and hear protests over the Maternal Health Plan, I hope you will remember. Remember this article; remember that being born a girl should not mean a life sentence of a horrific existence.
For a deeper understanding of the situation faced by millions of women the world over, read the book Half the Sky. Be inspired to make a change, one woman at a time. It is often difficult for us in our easy existence to develop solutions that work for the developing world. We have all been taught to not buy items from certain countries because of child labour. While we may find the idea of child labour appalling, it is a fact of life in much of the world and a way for a family to have the means to buy food for that day. Our morals and ethics are often impossible to place on others living a very different life than our own. By the time you have finished reading this article another #### maternal deaths have occurred.
If you are out-raged by what you have read and want to make a difference the authors of Half the Sky provide a four step action plan.
1. Set up an account for a micro-loan and change the future of a woman.
4. Join the CARE Action Network. This is an organization that fights against poverty and world hunger. It also works towards affecting climate change. Maternal health is also a major focus.
- Oprah featured The Girl Effect on her show. As little as $5 can help save a woman’s life. Find out what you can do for the price of that fancy coffee.
- The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have donated $1.5B for maternal and infant health.
- Center for Reproductive Rights focuses on worldwide reproductive health issues.
- Engender Health deals with reproductive health issues in the developing world.
- Edna Adan Maternity Hospital provides maternity care in Solaliland. Volunteers are welcome.
- Fistula Foundation supports the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital in Ethiopia.
- Heal Africa repairs fistulas and treats rape victims at their own hospital in Goma, Conga. Volunteers are welcome.
These are just a few of the amazing organizations that work tirelessly to improve the lives of women.
I have been inspired to make a difference. Within the next five years I plan to spend 3-4 months teaching English at a small village school in Pakistan. I also would like to volunteer at a hospital that deals with fistulas.
Browse inside Half the Sky.