African Women and Bush, Again

Nicholas Kristof has an excellent column about the prevalence of obstetric fistulae among young teenage women in Africa. I won’t describe the condition here; it is pretty graphic and Kristof does a good job of getting the misery of these women across.

Kristof makes two interesting points, one dealing with the Bush administration, and the other with “feminists.”

It turns out that that $34 million in family planning aid that Bush refused to send because radical right wingers claimed the money paid for abortions was one main source of funding for fistula hospitals in Africa. This just gives me another reason to intensely dislike Bush. By bowing to pressures from the right end of his party (and the right clearly had the story wrong in this case) Bush is contributing directly to the lack of postpartem medical care for women in Africa.

The second point Kristof makes deals with “feminists,” and how he is shocked that women’s rights activists have not been more vocal on this issue. He writes that “Perhaps it’s because Westerners can’t conceive of the horror of obstetric fistulas (Americans haven’t commonly suffered fistulas since the 19th century, when a fistula hospital stood on the site of today’s Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in Manhattan). Or perhaps the issue doesn’t galvanize women’s groups because fistulas relate to a traditional child-bearing role.” I think this is unfair. I have been aware of the problem of fistulae for some time, although not the connection of American family planning funding to it. Plenty of activists have shown interest in the problem. To accuse women’s rights activists of not being interested in the issue because it deals with “traditional child bearing” is misleading and misinformed.

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