Fistula in my Community
“... They let us marry while we are young. “... I got fistula, when I struggle to give birth. I lost the baby.
According to the UNFPA, gender based violence undermines the health, dignity, security and autonomy of its victims, yet it remains shrouded in a culture of silence. Victims of violence such as girls involved in child/early marriages can suffer sexual and reproductive health consequences such as obstetric fistula. In Ethiopia, 80% of women (and in some parts of the country up to 100%) are mutilated, as a means of women’s loyalty to culture and faith (Haregewoin and Emebet, 2003) and fistula in some cases has been known to be a long-term effect of FGM.
I couldn’t be inspired more with this quotation from one of my favourite people in the whole wide world as I embark on this journey for Women Empowerment
“The unfinished business of human history is the full emancipation and equality of women. And women’s empowerment is a universal right, not just a Western idea.” Hillary Rodham Clinton
My mission is to improve gender equity in health, acknowledging that women’s rights to better health is one of the most direct and potent ways to achieve social justice and bring change to whole communities. Hence the foundation of our organisation Bridgender Gap Global (BGG)
Bridgender Gap Global (BGG) is a non-for profit (NGO) organisation with the aim of Closing the Gender Inequality Gaps by giving young girls and women the opportunity to be able to attain their full potential through raising their self-esteem, self-confident and giving them a voice; top priority being to work with girls and women suffering from obstetric fistula in my community here in Addis Ababa in Ethiopia.
What is Obstetric Fistula
Obstetric fistula is a devastating childbirth injury that leaves the woman incontinent and often stigmatised and isolated from their families and communities. Most of the women are first time mothers and in this condition, they are often abandoned by their husbands and they may find it difficult to secure income or support, thereby deepening their poverty. Their isolation may affect their mental health, resulting in depression, low self-esteem and even suicide.
Obstetric fistula is a stark outcome of gender inequalities, human rights denial and poor access to reproductive health services, including maternal and new-born care, and an indication of high levels of maternal death and disability. The psychological harm suffered by its victims make it a form of violence against women as per the definition of Violence Against Women (VAW) by the United Nations Declaration on Elimination of violence against women (1993) as: "… any act of gender based violence that results in physical sexual and psychological harm or suffering to women including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether in public or private life".
My visit to the Fistula Centre in Addis Ababa left me speechless, holding back my tears, I have never seen anything like this. I will say this was the turning point for me as I decided to do whatever it takes to help empower my fellow women regain their self-esteem, self-confident, raise their voice to speak out about old cultural practices like child marriage and regain their places back into their communities.
BGG recognises that a total recovery from obstetric fistula necessitates not only medical treatment but an all-inclusive approach that considers the psychosocial and socioeconomic needs of the patients. These women need to be offered social reintegration services which are holistic, wide-ranging and sustainable. BGG will therefore invest in promoting the reintegration of women with obstetric fistula within the context of the MDGs and the sustainable development goals (SDGs).
The universal Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 5 seeks to “Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls”. A UNDP report on the SDGs stated: “Across regions and countries, evidence suggests that sustainable development strategies that do not promote gender equality and the full participation and empowerment of women and girls will not succeed.”
Our goal/overall objective
BGG aims at promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment, through addressing social and economic gaps of women victims of obstetric fistula in Ethiopia.
More specifically, BGG works to:
- Increase their access to education and training opportunities.
- Increase awareness and sensitisation against child marriages as a cause of maternal morbidity (fistula) and increase efforts to keep adolescent girls in school and outlaw child marriages
- Improve the women’s self-esteem and sense of personal power through counseling
- Increase their access to and control over economic resources particularly employment opportunities and credit assistance.
- Educate women about their rights and responsibilities.
- Increase women’s access to health information and women’s control over their own bodies.
- Provide psycho-social support mechanisms to these women
1 Our values
Community/people driven, consistent, equal opportunity for men and women at all levels.
1.2 Our vision
A world in which women are fully empowered in all spheres and attain their full potentials by 2050.
1.3 Our Mission
Promote the process of women achieving equal social, political, and economic rights for a more sustainable development.
To impact the lives of as many girls, women and whole communities breaking down any social, political and economic barriers in achieving their full potential.
With BGG as I strive to work and empower women in the different areas possible I remind myself once again of these encouraging words from my heroine "never doubt that you are valuable, powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world to pursue and achieve your own dreams." Mrs Hilary Clinton
Follow these short true stories of 3 fistula patients as interpreted from their local dialect into English by one of my local sisters Mulitti. Unedited
Questions; Ask her what is her name how old is she and what brings her to the Centre?
Interpreter; Musliathinks she is 13, one day she got sick, with fistula (the hole which they got from prolonged labour), leaked mixed urine and feces inside her womb. She was seriously sick. The doctors decide to do another surgery, to clean her womb. She was advised by all the staffs and advisors of the hospital. But, she had multiple surgeries to get healed from the fistula and this time, she refused to go to the operation theater. “If I live I live or else let me die, I won’t have any surgery anymore.” That was her decision. She was not able to eat, or drink water. She takes a small bite once in two days. She was almost skins and bone. One day, there was a music show on the time everybody was waiting to hear her death. Everybody was outside to enjoy the music. They carried her with a sofa and let her lay in the middle of her sisters. She enjoyed the music. Her face scared the hell out of everyone. She survived that and we find a healthy young girl at the centre today receiving treatment.
Questions; Ask her what is her name how old is she and what brings her to the Centre?
Interpreter; Her name is Tirumaed and she is from the Gondar region of Addis Ababa, in
northern Ethiopia. I like her name. That means good meal. She is a very light skinned and beautiful lady. I asked her; “ How old are you?”
“E..h, you think I know my age? They let us marry while we are young. Then I was sick and came to this hospital.” “Do you’ve a child?” “No I don’t. I got fistula, when I struggle to give birth. I lost the baby.” “How long did you stay here?” “Fifteen years.” “What do you do in this Rehab?” “I’m a cashier at the café.” Tirumaed learns informal education at the fistula hospital. She also learned the formal education in distance. She walks by the support…she has disability. Interpreter; Ajebush is from western Ethiopia. She lost her first child like the other two young women. The fistula workers travel across the country. That’s how they found her in Metu city. And brought her to Addis Ababa. She looks like a child to me not know her real age she thinks she is 14 years old.
Interpreter; These women are dishonoured in their areas. They are shunned by their communities when they got fistula. They pass urine and feces. They are wearing a lose dress. They have a tube-like catheter. And a small plastic bag to collect the drippings on their side. When they travel they use adult diaper. At the rehab, there is a dairy farm. We saw cattle from outside. There is a café. Some of the women milk the cows early in the morning. Some of them do knitting. Others do tie and die. Few of them do embroidery, which very fantastic and the money goes directly to the women who made the items and I like this about them.
As I sat and listened to the interpreter recounting the stories of these young women I could only breathe a sigh of relief as the session was over.
It is in the backdrop of these stories that I vowed to the little that I can to bring some social justice to these women here in Ethiopia. Although at first I had hesitated saying that I am a foreigner in Ethiopia but then I say to myself that we are all foreigners in this world and help should be given where it is needed and not base on where one comes from besides this has been my community for the last two and more and when I leave what impact would I have made in this community.
This is 'The Frontlines of My Life' in Ethiopia and what i like the world to know and I what I will like to to change.
How to Get Involved
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Website and and social media still being developed.