Live from the Lilith Blog

July 24, 2007 by

Midwifery as Activism

Fleeing the Janjawid isn’t the only way that Darfurian women are fighting for their lives—they are also struggling to prevent maternal mortality by becoming midwives. Sudan has the fifth-highest maternal mortality rate in the world, with 17 out of every 1,000 women dying while giving birth. This startling figure is partially caused by a lack of trained local midwives to compensate for the country’s severe doctor shortage and limited number of hospitals. With the help of humanitarian aid organizations, the Midwifery School of El Fasher in Darfur is training students to help women in their community give birth . This year, 82 midwives graduated with the expertise to handle births within their refugee communities.

Midwives are not only important to prevent deaths during labor, but also to reduce post-natal complications and their societal ramifications. Traditionally, Darfurian women marry at extremely young ages and conceive children as soon as their bodies allow them to. Having children in your early teens can lead to post-natal complications such as fistula (a disease that destroys connections between organs, leading often to debilitating and ostracizing incontinence). Women who were raped by the janjiwid militia and Sudanese Army also experience reproductive difficulties and painful post-natal conditions. Sadly, women suffering from these conditions are often ostracized by their husbands and their communities. Midwives can help avoid these unfortunate circumstances by providing proper natal care and emotional support. The Dean at the Midwifery School of El Fasher said that enrollment rates are rising and their wait list grows longer every year.

As a Jewish-American woman, I could learn a lot from the Darfurian women’s growing interest in midwifery and their commitment to reproductive health. Many women here in America do not have access to adequate natal and post-natal treatment due to the rising costs of health-care. This doesn’t necessarily imply that I should become a midwife (although Hebrew women are the oldest recorded midwives), but it does mean I should join the advocates in my community who are working towards reproductive health for women. From Sudan to the United States, it is inspiring to see how women are working to ensure the reproductive health of their sisters and friends.

–Sophie Glass

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