Early Marriage, Fistula & FGM: 3 Women Defy the Odds

The days seem few and far between where I don’t read a story in the news about a woman being oppressed or exploited somewhere in the world.

It always leaves me thinking, if women hold up half the sky (as quoted by Nicholas Kristof in the title of his bestselling book) why are they treated so unjustly?

Thankfully, there are organizations like World Vision dedicated to protecting women and girls. And collectively, we are making major strides in the fight for women’s rights, globally.

So in celebration of International Women’s Day – happening March 8 – let’s meet some amazing women who have defied the odds and come out on the other side, even stronger.

Reshma was married off at age 15 and had to drop out of school. Photo: Annila Harris
Reshma was married off at age 15 and had to drop out of school. Photo: Annila Harris

Reshma, from India, got married at age 15. She had one condition when she married her husband – that she be able to finish school. But once under her in-laws’ roof, her primary tasks were to cook and clean. “Studies won’t help you do housework,” Reshma’s mother-in-law would tell her. So she dropped out of school.

Reshma’s mom, Kumari, describes the first time they spoke after the wedding: “My daughter was crying and I told her I’d made a huge mistake getting her married so young. I had wrecked her life,” Kumari says.

Early marriage puts an end to the dreams of millions of girls.

According to UNICEF, there are more than 700 million women worldwide who were married as children.

But Reshma was one of the lucky ones.

Kumari saw the error of her ways and brought her daughter back home, so she could resume her childhood, and her education. Today, with help from World Vision and a local community group, she is on track to finish school and her future is looking brighter.

Sponsoring a girl helps ensure she is protected from dangers such as early marriage, and able to stay in school.

Jennifer sits outside her church in Uganda, and prays for healing from fistula. Photo: Jon Warren.
Jennifer sits outside her church in Uganda, and prays for healing from fistula. Photo: Jon Warren.

Jennifer, 22, isn’t allowed to enter the church in her Ugandan community; instead she sits on the dirt outside and worships.

In August 2015, Jennifer gave birth, but her baby did not survive. As if losing her child was not horrible enough, a prolonged and difficult labour had created a hole in Jennifer’s urinary and rectal canal, causing a constant leak of urine and feces. This medical issue is otherwise known as fistula.

Coined a disease of poverty, obstetric fistula affects an estimated 2 million women in sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, the Middle East, Latin America and the Caribbean who don’t have proper health care during childbirth.

It is something these women have absolutely no control over, yet it leaves them isolated and ashamed.

Jennifer’s family ostracized her, so she went to live with her father. She would hardly leave the house, except on Sundays when she would go to church to pray to be healed.

In October 2016 Jennifer received an answer to her prayers when she had a successful surgery at a World Vision health clinic to repair her fistula.

Proper health care during labour and delivery can mean the difference between life and death for moms and babies. Give the gift of mom and baby care, today.

"My daughters have not and will not have FGM. I am determined," says Fatiah. Photo: Tim Freccia.
"My daughters have not and will not have FGM. I am determined," says Fatiah. Photo: Tim Freccia.

When I first started working for World Vision Canada and heard about Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), I was in disbelief that a tradition so brutal and dangerous could be so widely-practiced in this day and age.

FGM, which involves removing all or part of the female genitalia, has no known health benefits, and its purpose revolves around controlling a woman’s sexuality. Yet, in 2016, UNICEF estimates there were 200 million women in 30 countries who had undergone FGM.

Fatiah, who is 38 and lives in Somalia, had FGM performed on her when she was just eight years old. She suffered from related health issues for years afterwards.

The list of risks for women like Fatiah is extensive, and includes infection, fatal bleeding, urinary infection, hepatitis, HIV, incontinence, infertility, obstructed labour, fistula, neonatal mortality, anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, just to name a few.

Today Fatiah is a strong advocate against the practice, “My daughters have not and will not have FGM. I am determined.”

In a community in Northwest Kenya, World Vision and community leaders have teamed up to replace FGM with a new rite of passage – a coming of age party for girls and boys.

Written by Alicia Dubay