News from the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA)
RAWA News


 

 

 

Add RAWA RSS Feed to Feedreaders



 




 


RAWA Photo Gallery
From RAWA Photo Gallery
 


Help RAWA: Order from our wish list on Amazon.com

RAWA Channel on Youtube

Follow RAWA on Twitter

Join RAWA on Facebook


Daily Times, November 2, 2008

Afghanistan’s dying mothers

That tragedy can be read on many levels, each more heart-rending than the next.

Carol Mann

Afghan mothers and children suffer
Ultimately, a society that allows women to be brutalised will remain a breeding ground of generalised violence.

Today in Badakhshan, Afghanistan, for every 100,000 births, 6,500 young mothers die. This is a world record, unrivalled anywhere. In other parts of Afghanistan, too, the rates of maternal mortality continue to be among the highest in the world.

Roughly 75 percent of Afghan newborns that die do so because of lack of food, warmth, and care. Unloved little girls fare the worst. In Afghanistan as a whole, a woman dies of pregnancy-related causes every 27 minutes — and perhaps even more frequently, because many such deaths go unrecorded. Many, perhaps most, are under sixteen years of age.

The Taliban — blamed nowadays for just about all of Afghanistan’s ills — have officially been gone for nearly seven years, so why are conditions still so abysmal?

In Kabul and Herat, mobile phones abound, a tooth-eroding concoction called “Afghan Cola” is sold, the Internet works (sometimes), there are ATM machines, sophisticated heroin laboratories, four-wheel drive vehicles, five-star hotels, ads for private banks — all the trappings of globalised modernity. Yet so many women die like flies, in pools of blood and deep-rooted indifference.

While billions of dollars in aid have led to improvements in urban areas, where health facilities have been built and midwives trained, the overall maternal death figures have hardly changed. As one doctor told me: “A competent midwife or nurse would rather be out of work in Kabul than stuck in a remote village.” But most Afghans live in remote villages — those in Badakhshan can be reached only after a day’s bumpy ride on a donkey.

This miserable situation has been attributed to various causes, mainly lack of infrastructure and local economic conditions. But cultural questions must also be addressed, because gender discrimination is the most important cause of maternal mortality.

In Afghan society, discrimination begins at birth. One obvious reason is that a boy is destined to support his parents and much of his family all his life, and therefore represents a long-term investment, whereas a girl will be given over to her husband’s family as soon as possible. Feeding a girl is seen as effectively looking after someone else’s property.

Once, I heard a dreadful story of a breech birth which a traditional midwife did not know how to handle. In the end, she wrenched the baby’s body out, severing it from its head, which remained inside the mother’s womb. It took six days to get the woman to a hospital in Jalalabad though it was not very far from where she lived. She somehow survived, with major health complications, including permanent fistula, which will condemn her to a life of exclusion from her family and unrelieved misery.

That tragedy can be read on many levels, each more heart-rending than the next. But note that it occurred near a health facility. As soon as the midwife saw that the baby was coming out feet forward, she must have known that there was little she could do to save either mother or baby. Even before that, she would have noticed that the child had not turned properly, and that major problems were on the way.

This means that someone — a husband or mother-in-law — had taken the decision not to send the young woman to the hospital, instead keeping her in inhuman suffering for nearly a week.

The solution is not just to build more hospitals, but also to change deep-rooted disdain for women. And, sadly, things have become worse in the past 30 years, as Afghanistan’s particular brand of Islam, combined with its legacy of dire poverty and war, compounds an already misogynist pre-Islamic tradition.

Maternal mortality is a sinister consequence of this complex situation. The legal system, schools, and the media could bring change, but no official entity takes the problem seriously enough to initiate effective action. The central reason is despairingly simple: women’s lives are not valued, and even women themselves perceive their suffering as being unavoidable.

Every 28 minutes a woman dies in Afghanistan during childbirth
54 percent of Afghan children are born stunted
The Afghan fertility rate is second highest in the world at 7.5 children per woman
UN Development Programme Afghanistan

What Afghanistan needs is an inquest after each death and laws making it a criminal offence to forbid access to medical aid, when available, to women and children (or, more correctly, to children and their children, given that girls are often married by age 14). Prisons, I fear, would be full of abusive husbands and, I regret to say, vengeful mothers-in-law. Health education through public media, reaching distant areas of the country, is an urgent priority, but has been utterly ignored in favour of commercial priorities.

Questioning culture is, of course, a politically incorrect approach. But we must refuse to bow before the altar of tolerance when it comes to what is truly unacceptable, wherever it occurs, and this is what the world is witnessing passively in Afghanistan.

Does diversity authorise such brutal deaths and senseless violence against women simply because some supposedly traditional practice allows them to be married before their bodies are ready and denies them health care when they give birth?

The fight against maternal mortality in Afghanistan must become a global priority. Ultimately, a society that allows women to be brutalised will remain a breeding ground of generalised violence. —DTPS

Carol Mann is Director of FemAid and teaches at the Sorbonne in Paris

Category: Women, Poverty, Healthcare / Environment - Views: 11194


Related

01.11.2008: Another Afghan woman falls prey to domestic violence
31.10.2008: 80% Afghans have mental problems. Dr. Mufti.
28.10.2008: Afghans increasingly pessimistic: survey
19.10.2008: Police find body of 'raped and shot' teenage girl
13.10.2008: Newly-Wed Murdered by Father In-Law with axe
07.10.2008: Bearing Witness: The Afghan Tragedy
02.10.2008: Human Rights Violation in Afghanistan “has doubled”
22.09.2008: Secret society campaigns for female rights
19.09.2008: Children worst sufferers in Afghan conflict
17.09.2008: A Young Afghan Girl is Injured After being Raped
11.09.2008: Afghans say life no better after invasion
09.09.2008: 47 self-immolation cases were recorded in Herat city hospital in six months
09.09.2008: Disaster in Afghanistan
30.08.2008: Graph of self-immolation among Afghan women shows rise in Herat
24.08.2008: Sharifa, “If we had roads, cars and clinics in our village… my baby would not have died”
20.08.2008: Barg Gul was murdered by her husband in Badakhshan province
19.08.2008: A 13-year old Afghan girl was gang-raped by nine men in Takhar
04.08.2008: Sex attacks on Afghan children continue to rise, rights group says
22.07.2008: Warlords gang-rape 12-year-old girl, her family threatens to commit mass suicide if justice is not done
14.07.2008: High birth rate killing mothers, infants in Afghnaistan - UNFPA expert
03.07.2008: Afghan children 'forgotten victims' of war: UN
16.06.2008: AFGHANISTAN: Little support for victims of child sexual abuse
13.06.2008: Afghan mothers-to-be face dangerous journey
04.06.2008: A Newly-Wed Bride Slaughtered
27.05.2008: Alarming Rise of Suicides Among Afghan Women
09.05.2008: Afghanistan: One of the World’s Most Difficult Places to Become a Mother
02.05.2008: A Poor and Starving Afghan Family Sold Children to Survive
30.04.2008: Death in childbirth: A health scourge for Afghanistan

Latest

Most Viewed

Comments