08 May 2012

In the Land of Men

Yesterday I was present for a C-Section.  It was amazing.

But after the baby was born and Mama's uterus was stitched closed, the OB prepared her for a tubal ligation . . . which for the rest of the world is just a fancy way of saying, she was about to have her tubes tied.

Baby Boy was Mama's tenth baby.  But he was only the fifth to survive.  And she was done.  

She looked to be about my age and she didn't want to have any more children.  

As she was prepped for the C-Section, the Chef du Bloc Operatoire entered the surgical theatre and began speaking strongly in Hausa.  There was a lot of back and forth between the men in the room.  I understood: 'her husband,' 'he doesn't want,' 'don't continue,' 'there will be problems.'

Turns out, the person who had 'signed' (since most people are illiterate, those who can't sign their name stamp their thumb print on official documents) wasn't her husband . . . and there was concern that he was not supportive of her having her tubes tied.

You see, in this country, a woman has no say when it comes to the care of her own body.  She is her husband's property.  She does what he tells her to do, when he wants her to do it.  Without a husband, she is nobody.  Without children, she has no worth.

In a society of plural marriage, jealousy between wives and, by default, children runs rampant through families.  Here, women are divorced and thrown out if they are found to be infertile or cannot carry babies to term.  And should a girl get pregnant without being married, she is disgraced, disowned, and shamed until a generous man is willing to take her on as a third or fourth wife.

The women of Niger endure immense physical and emotional suffering . . . almost a year ago, I treated a twenty year old woman for tendon injuries of her right hand, as well as for the wounds on her head.  Her husband came home one night, high from some traditional medicine he had taken.  Wielding a machete, he tried to kill her.  With the first blow, she lifted her right arm to protect her head and neck.  He severed the finger-extensor tendons on the back side of her hand.  She doubled in pain, and that is when he lifted his weapon again and chopped up the back of her head.

She came to our hospital for care . . . and she began to heal, not just physically, but emotionally.  Until the time came for her to leave.  Suddenly she had strange symptoms and took a downward turn.  She told me later that her family was forcing her to return to her husband's home . . . she didn't want to go, but she had no other choice.

This morning, on the front page of the BBC World's website, there was a headline: Niger Worst Place to be a Mother.  The article discusses poor nutrition and infant mortality.  What it doesn't mention is the cultural mandate that expressing grief over the loss of a baby is inappropriate.  Or that a woman is accused of having an affair when she is actually bringing her baby daughter for occupational therapy once a week.

In our Club Foot Clinic a month ago, a mother brought her little girl in for the free, non-invasive casting that would correct her feet and allow her to walk.  As our team began applying the first cast, a man entered the room.  There was a lot of back and forth in strong, angry Hausa that I could not understand.  I asked one of the Nigeriens working with me what was going on.  'That's her father, and he is refusing treatment.  He won't let us continue because she is just a girl.'  I can only imagine what the consequences were for that mom when they arrived back at the house.

I confess, I struggle.  Greatly.  Women accept their position because the only society they've ever known tells them there is no other option.

And my heart breaks for these voiceless women.  Who will speak for them?  Who will stand up for them?  Who will lift up His hand and fight back?
For He will deliver the needy when [she] cries for help, the afflicted also, and [she] who has no helper.  He will have compassion on [her], and the lives of the needy He will save. He will rescue their life from oppression and violence!  Psalm 72:12-14a


Linda Watt said...

You are doing a great job of expressing the plight of women in this culture.  Hopefully among Christians they have more dignity.  Don't give up!  With Jesus their lives can change, and they can have dignity.  I do know of a woman who divorced her drunken husband and raised her children by herself and is putting them through college. She is a Muslim.  I know another woman who divorced her husband too because he would not take care of the family and relied on her to do it all.  I know Christian women who have dignity and who are true helpmates to their husband.  What you are doing is important.  

Dianna Rogers Hilstad said...

Oh, my heart.... broken, saddened.  BUT thankful that you are there to minister, that other organizations are there to minister - Remember that Jesus has not forsaken - He LOVES beyond measure and desires to show this in so many ways.  Praying that you will not grow weary that you will rely on HIS strength daily to provide what you need.  May you find hope and joy in the midst of the brokeness. 

Beth said...

I just want to thank you for being the hands and feet of Jesus where He has called you. You encourage and challenge me!

Sarah Fountain said...

I don't know about you, but I get the feeling that if I were in your place I would often be tempted to wish that I were a man instead of a woman.  That way, I could step in and help in ways that I couldn't as a woman.  But, at the same time, I know that there would be a whole different suite of temptations and trials being a man in Niger.  I am proud of you for being a woman in a place where it is hard to be one.  You often show humility, or (if you don't feel that you can own that virtue) at least an ability to laugh at yourself, and that shows that you don't know everything even though you are a white woman.  On the other hand, you don't hesitate to stand your ground when you have the authority.  You are regularly in my family's prayers.

Ellen Jeffer said...

I am putting the women of Niger as a priority on my prayer list. Thankful you are there to minister to them in whatever way possible.[you are high on the list too] Thanks for sharing in such a beautiful way.