There’s no question that the path that obstetric fistula patients have to walk is an incredibly difficult one. Between the physical discomfort, the loss of ability to work or function in society, and the psychological grief and pain of burying a child and being stricken with a horrible condition, most women with fistulas are in a state that is hard even to imagine. But one aspect of their suffering is particularly disturbing: a recent study of obstetric fistula patients in Niger found that problems during pregnancy were considered a “curse” or “punishment” due to something the mother did or did not do. The study went on to find that Nigerien beliefs indicate that a woman’s “sins” were considered to cause fetal death, incontinence and damage to her organs.
Let that sink in for a minute. On top of all of the horror that obstetric fistula can wrought, the women who have them think it’s their own fault. And their family, friends and neighbors think the same. Bear in mind also that these women are often girls who develop a fistula not because of their actions or inactions but because their bodies simply are too small to bear children. The amount of shame, blame and stigmatization that surrounds this condition is like nothing I’ve ever seen. There’s a reason these women are called the “lepers of the 21st century,” but unlike leprosy, there is no antibiotic that will cure obstetric fistulas. What will cure them is surgery and what will prevent them is education and access to maternal health care for all women. There is no blame or shame in this scenario; it’s a devastating condition but one that with hard work and perseverance can be eradicated forever.
Please support the work of the Worldwide Fistula Fund today. We need your help to end this.