Monday, February 26, 2024

Changing perspective promotes worldly understanding

It can often be hard to place yourself in another person’s shoes. When you’re born somewhere with healthcare options, annual doctor visits and easily-accessible vaccinations, it can seem difficult to imagine a world without those benefits.

For women and men in world, seeing a doctor for any type of illness can be near impossible. Women in the sub-Saharan Africa and parts of Southeast Asia are being affected greatly by an internal injury known as an obstetric fistula with little hope of recovering.

New York Times Columnist Nicholas Kristof took action and learned about the thousands of women in Ethiopia and millions more around the world who are being shunned by friends and family, left by spouses and abandoned to die due to the injury.

A fistula leads to devastating physical and social consequences.

It is caused by childbirth, or sometimes rape, and is a hole between the birth canal and the bladder or rectum. As a result, urine and feces can leak through a woman’s vagina as well as nerve damage that could cease a person’s ability to walk and major weight loss. A lot of people are repulsed by this injury and believe it is a curse from God. In return, women often feel worthless.
Kristof described victims as “the lepers of the 21st century.”

Although fistula is preventable, hundreds of thousands of women suffer from it worldwide, according to Kristof’s column. The injury isn’t spoken of often because it is concerns sex, odor and private body parts that some consider taboo.

“Victims tend to live in impoverished countries and already have three strikes against them: They’re poor, rural and female, and thus voiceless and marginalized,” Kristof said in his column.

This is unsettling due to the fact that, as Americans, most people have access to healthcare facilities, but there are men and women suffering in countries with little options for medical care.

This presidential race has helped propel the conversation about what “women’s rights” means in 2016, but the candidates seem to not address women in other countries.

“But that discussion (about women’s rights) has focused inward on America when the most horrific challenges are endured by women and girls abroad,” Kristof said.

By having access to reliable forms of contraception, more than 200 million women worldwide could be saved from unwanted pregnancies and the burdens that come with those pregnancies. The grim reality is that getting pregnant, in many countries, is one of the worst things a woman can do.

Organizations like Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia, EngenderHealth and the Fistula Foundation have helped demonstrate that all women’s lives are significant and can be saved. Many women with fistula feel it is better to die than to have this problem. These kinds of organizations are helping women have faith in themselves again by helping them maintain a healthy weight, walk again and stop rectal leaking through surgeries.

With 50,000 – 100,000 new cases annually, proposals to tackle fistula have been introduced in the U.S. by Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro but haven’t made much progress yet.

“This legislation has the potential to transform the empowerment of women in the region by eradicating fistula and, as a result, improving the social, educational and economic conditions of fistula victims and their communities,” DeLauro wrote on her website. “Simply put, this is something that we must do.”

When you live in a country that gives you access to medical facilities, it seems only right to use that power to help others. Every life matters and can be saved no matter where you come from or who you are. If the U.S. decides to step in to help other countries, millions of women can be saved from a horrible fate.

Email Laura Schmidt at

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