Monday, September 14, 2009

12-year-old Yemeni girl dies in childbirth

by Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux

I saw the headline "Yemeni girl, 12, dies in painful childbirth" in the gym this morning, and couldn't get it out of my head all day. The story of Fawziya Ammodi, the girl in question, is terribly sad, and appalling on so many levels. Fawziya came from an impoverished family, and because of financial hardship was forced to drop out of school last year (she was in fourth grade) and married to a 24-year-old man. She died of severe bleeding on Monday, after a three-day labor. Her baby didn't live.

Fawziya's death brings up the dual issues of child brides, which are very common in Yemen (more than half of girls are married off before the age of 18), and the quality of maternal health care, not to mention limited birth control education and resources. Dr. Ana Langer, the president of EngenderHealth, has a great post up at HuffPo about how planning pregnancies can save women's lives (she encourages all of us to contact our legislators about a spending increase in the FY10 Foreign Operations Bill - if you're interested in learning more, check out this link).

And then we're confronted with the horror of women who are forced to get married because of poverty, or because women are considered a burden to their family after a certain age. Regardless of conversations about the appropriate age for marriage in any society, I think we can all agree that 12-year-old girls should not be forced into sexual relationships with men twice their age. It's unclear as to why Fawziya's family encouraged (or forced) her to marry, but there are many, many circumstances where young women are essentially sold to older men. This was the case last year, when 10-year-old Nujood Ali escaped from her new husband, who raped her within weeks of the ceremony. In February, members of the Yemeni parliament tried to pass a law raising the minimum age for marriage to 17, but the initiative was blocked by hard-liners who argued that it violates Sharia law.

For me, the causes behind the tragedy of Fawziya's death are very hard to pin down, mostly because there are so many. And I'm afraid that it's going to be turned into yet another conversation about why Islam is bad for women, which is so often oversimplified. Obviously, the men who are using Sharia to block a minimum marriage age are propping up a patriarchal system where women can be bought and sold, but I don't want the child bride issue to be the only thing that comes out of this conversation. The horrible death of this little girl was also because of poor prenatal and maternal care, and an inability (or unwillingness) to access or use contraceptives. It was also because of her family's extreme poverty that she was married in the first place. The forced marriage of young girls is a human rights abuse, and it's really horrifying to think that there are more issues at play in Fawziya's death. But I hope that more comes from this tragic, tragic event than a simple condemnation of extremists in the Yemeni government.


At September 15, 2009 at 6:47 PM , Blogger Ellen said...

This is a very powerful and moving post and I can't get over the fact that my heart is breaking for all the women in the world who suffer as child brides and the lack of maternal healthcare. I hope this reaches the annals of the American public and we take action. Thank you so much.

At September 16, 2009 at 5:06 AM , Anonymous Gone Ghost said...

Then when we have the other extreme in the US where men are the ones getting abused and no one cares. I would like to borrow a quote from Nuj. I no longer think about marriage either.

At September 16, 2009 at 9:38 AM , Blogger who knows said...

What a shame these stories must always come back for some to a mere "what about teh menz".

The most salient point in many ways here is that it IS a human rights (rather than a "women's rights" - as if women aren't human enough- or religious or political) issue. Very sad.

At September 16, 2009 at 10:58 AM , Blogger Miranda said...

When men die giving birth, I'll start worrying about them. Right now, it is women who are fighting for their rights, sometimes just their right to live.

At September 16, 2009 at 11:12 AM , Anonymous Saskia said...

Equal Writes: Thanks for posting about such a troubling topic with such care & thought. Although the NYC Alliance Against Sexual Assault works hard to protect the rights of survivors in one city, we can't help but be saddened when young women(children really)around the world are subjected to sexual violence and have so little recourse.

At September 16, 2009 at 5:27 PM , Anonymous virago said...

"Then when we have the other extreme in the US where men are the ones getting abused and no one cares."

If abuse of men is such a problem, than MEN need to step up to the plate and get funding for their own domestic violence shelters, etc. After all, no one gave a damn about WOMEN being abused until we lobbied for funding for domestic violence shelters (which do help male victims) and for laws to help battered women and to make male batterers accountable for their action. And most of this didn't even happen until about 30 years ago. Domestic violence shelters are constantly in danger of closing due to lack of funds, and domestic violence laws are either inadequately being enforced, or are constantly in danger of being overturned. WOMEN have enough trouble trying to keep what protections we do have without being made responsible for MEN. Again, if male domestic violence is such a problem, than MEN are the ones who need to take care of it instead of expecting women to shoulder all the burdens and the blame for everything like always. If MEN want WOMEN to make MEN
a priority in the war against domestic violence, than they need to make WOMEN a priority first instead of denying that domestic violence AGAINST WOMEN IS A HUGE PROBLEM and whining about what little protections WOMEN actually do have. It's as simple as that.

At September 20, 2009 at 10:31 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Virago, I LOVE YOU, !!!

At September 29, 2009 at 8:51 AM , Anonymous Gunnar Bjursell said...

I do agree with you concerning the unacceptable in young women - or rather girls - being forced to marry men they don't love and who are much older than themselves. The difference in age is when talking about 13-14 years old quite important. I have a good female friend who also was forced to marry a man at the age of 13. Her husband were at the time 28. Not only was she forced but she also gave birth to three children. After being married for about 30 years or more she finally told him she had never loved him. This was true! When she was young and got married the family was also threatened by another family who wanted her to marry their son. There are in other words a lot of traumatic memories connected with this her experience. It's not intellectually defendable to argue that "this is the tradition", because this is a question of something more important than tradition, namely the right for women (and men) to make their own decisions concerning matters like this. It's also a question of defending young women from being abused and mentally traumatized!


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