Restoring Dignity and healing for women and girls with Fistula
By Alvaina Daniels, WCC UN Liaison Office Intern
In an area where child marriage is common, Gul Bano was married in a rural village of Pakistan at the age of 12 and became pregnant soon after. There was no antenatal care facility available in her husband’s village of Kohadast, but as she remained healthy throughout her pregnancy her family had not expected any complications as she went into labor. Throughout three days of labor, Gul suffered the loss of first child, severe amounts of blood, and a fever. Her fever was broken through the use of antibiotics given by her traditional midwife. Eight days after giving birth, Gul noticed that she was passing urine and feces through her vagina. No one had realized that the rigorous labor had caused so much damage to the tissue in her birth canal that she developed several openings, called fistulae, between her vagina, rectum, and bladder.
As she had no control over her system, she was left constantly wet and dirty. Although she received support from her husband, she became ostracized from her community. As she battled depression and contemplating her future, she began to consider suicide. Gul went untreated with fistula for two years. Her breakthrough came when her sister married a man who was connected to the Fistula Regional Treatment Center at the Koohi Goth Women’s Hospital in Karachi, where such fistulae were being repaired, her family decided to send her there.
“Gul and her husband and sister walked two days through the mountains to reach the nearest highway, the first tarmac road Gul had ever seen. There they took a long bus to the nearest town, and another eight-hour bus trip to Karachi. It was the first time Gul had ever traveled in a motorized vehicle, and her first experience of light bulbs, large buildings, televisions, doctors, nurses…” Traveling long distances are a common obstacle for impoverished communities where proper healthcare and facilities are unavailable. Even if they are able to reach these facilities, they unfortunately discover that the necessary surgery costs up to $300 dollars. When fistulae occur because of a difficult birth, many women abandoned by their husbands and families and are left with a lack of financial and emotional support. Gul was extremely fortunate to have the support of her husband and family. Although birth is not a medical condition, it is a huge physical and emotional strain on women. There needs to be proper care available and provided for women and many of the churches involved in Ecumenical Women make sure that women are aided especially in the treatment of fistula. Religions for Peace began an inter-religious initiative to stop maternal deaths and end fistula. Multi-faith organizations such as the ELCA, Salvation Army, and NCC among others have been collaborating and raising awareness. United Methodist Church launched the year-long campaign, Operation Healing Hope, with the United Nations Population Fund.
She was so weak from traveling and anemia that she had to undergo two months of treatment before she was cleared for surgery. After seven months, Gul was finally able to leave the hospital. “Since then, Gul has regained her status in her family and community and has become a mobile good-will ambassador and information source for other women suffering obstetric fistula. She has brought several to the Karachi hospital for treatment.”
Mark 1:40-42 tells the story of a man that is healed of his leprosy. “A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, “If you are willing, you can make me clean. Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. ‘I am willing,’ he said. ‘Be clean!’ Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cured.” Although it was a man who was healed in this story, I felt that it was important to show what it means in asking for healing. Healing calls not only for surrender, but for a covenant. This past Sunday, my pastor described a covenant as a “promise by which we obligate ourselves to one another in such a way that the obligation of one party is not dependent on the faithfulness of the other.” All parties must be willing. In coming to Christ, we are essentially coming not only to His Love and Healing, but to a family of believers, who we are also in covenant with. In doing so, we have a duty to one another and to Christ follow through in our commitment to one another. Where Christ is, we should also be and where we are Christ should always be. In healing, nurturing, and loving we are to be one in Christ. This is a commitment we must be willing to devote our lives to. As sisters and brothers of Christ, we have a calling for healing. Healing occurs not only after the damage, but also in preventive care. As we committed to Christ and our sisters of the human family, we must not only stand in solidarity with them and give them the space not only for their voices to be heard, but provide them with necessary care to ensure fulfillment of life and health.