Devastated Women — Human Rights and Economic Collide
KHARTOUM, Sudan— In a sincere, well-meant and tragic political maneuver, President Bush is blocking $34 million meant for the United Nations Population Fund. I wish he could visit the women whose lives are thus devastated — teenagers like Aisha Idris.
Mrs. Idris was lying in a Khartoum hospital where she is one of dozens of women awaiting surgery for obstetric fistula. She married at 13 and, because no contraception was available, gave birth at 14 after no prenatal care. She did not even have the help of a midwife.
After three days of labor, the baby was born dead and Mrs. Idris had suffered a fistula: the tearing of her rectum, urethra and vagina, leaving her incontinent and causing bodily wastes to seep through her vaginal canal and down her legs. As with hundreds of thousands of other women in the developing world who have fistula, Mrs. Idris’s clothes were constantly wet and soiled, and her husband promptly divorced her.
”People were saying things behind my back, and some insulted me to my face,” Mrs. Idris said, speaking in a catatonic whisper. Now 19, she has lived with this nightmare for five years and spent her family’s entire savings, $80, on two failed operations.
Moreover, it was the population fund that persuaded China to replace its catastrophic old IUD, a steel ring, with much safer and more effective IUD’s made of copper. This won no headlines or applause, yet it was a triumph for the health and welfare of 60 million Chinese women with IUD’s, and the decline in accidental pregnancies has also meant about 20 million fewer abortions over the last 10 years.
Sitting beside these women, like Ahnis Tigaina, who has suffered from fistula for nine years and received her divorce papers when she was still in the hospital for the first time, it seems unbelievable that the United States is cutting off funds to one of the few organizations that helps them.
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