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Culture, the Culprit

Culture dynamics and maternal mortality in India

It's shocking to learn that culture could play such an overbearing effect on a woman's health, especially in the years she first steps into motherhood.

India's high maternal mortality rate(rate of death of women who are pregnant) has a very unacceptable cause, that of 'Culture'.A girl and woman's health is not a priority in households, clans, villages, community and the society.This is majorly because the value of a woman's health has always been very low.Young women do not have a status in their household to raise issues of their health and care, even during pregnancy.Going to a doctor or medical care unit is subject to taking permission from husband and -in laws.Majority of families impose their decision of delivery at home. With no nutrient supplements when required most, no medical monitoring for complications and no guidance many many mothers die at birth.

Is the value of a female life this minuscule that we will continue to allow what is going on in the name of culture??

These women are not remembered long, culture even has provisions for her replacement by a tradition called 'Sororate' where the woman's unwed sister is given in marriage to the man to keep the family tradition going.

Who are these women?Are they educated?Does this happen only in remote rural parts of the country or is widespread?These are questions that arise out of the alarming statistical data glaring at us, too prominent to be dismissed.The most unfortunate aspect of the situation is that it is basically a rural phenomenon but then 73% of India's population lives in the villages, while just the few left in cities and towns. To make matters worse, only 25% of country's health care facilities are concentrated in the rural part of the country where majority of the people live! What an uneven distribution of resources!!! So when I talk about maternal mortality, it is also in the context of these majority women who hail from villages.

Women do not have the power to address issues of their well being in their households, especially so after marriage and please remember they marry very early or in their childhood. In the year 2010, there were 2,87,000 deaths and India contributes 19% to the global maternal mortality. This is just an estimate and you need to bear in mind that most cases of deaths are not even reported as most of them are not institutional deliveries and out of the ambit of government radar.

It is really a pity that while India paves its way to become an economic giant, 50% of its population, the girls and women of the country, are still battling with the right to be born (India has high gender based abortion and is crazy for male child), the right to go to school( India has one of the highest rate of child marriage), right to safety (India is rumoured to be soon heading to become the rape capital) and right to health when she needs it the most (Alarming maternal mortality rate). Behind the many faces of her plight lies the culture of the country, the very same culture which has made many Bollywood films a super hit and what makes India, India.

A life incident comes to my mind when I was an adolescent and had a friend in school who confided that she was allowed to eat only after her younger brother ate and there was some leftovers. This brought me immense pain to learn of my friend's plight but now years later, I can comprehend her situation - a girl hailing from Uttar Pradesh and her position in her household.Though the medically cited causes of the high maternal mortality rate in India are unsafe home births and inadequate access to quality health care, these are just manifestations of cultural diktats on women, the same kinds my friend in school might have been under.

In the year 2000, 189 member countries of the United Nations endorsed and committed themselves to eight Millennium Development Goals, one of which relates specifically to maternal health. Goal # 5- "To reduce by three quarters the maternal mortality ratio." Other goals are closely related, particularly Goal #3- " To eliminate gender disparity in primary and secondary education, preferably by 2005 and at all levels by 2015."

Maternal health is ultimately the result of a society that values women and children regardless of their race and social, economic, and political status, and provides unimpeded access to information and health services from the household to the hospital.

Maternal mortality and morbidity cannot be assessed and reviewed in isolation. We have to take into account all the traits in our culture that work against us WOMEN! Public health initiatives' major challenge would now be to convince people the importance of maternal mortality.Most of all women have to begin a new journey where they themselves are the primary stakeholder of their own development.

We must take this journey now.

Urmila Chanam
Activist and Journalist

Related links:
1. 'As I remember her' (A child bride) http://thewip.net/contributors/2013/03/as_i_remember_her_a_story_of_a.html
2.'Why do daughters go missing'(Sex selective abortion in India) http://worldpulse.com/node/58064
3." I am unbeatable'-From fear to freedom.(Domestic Violence in India) http://worldpulse.com/node/55121

This story was written for World Pulse’s Girls Transform the World Digital Action Campaign.

World Pulse believes that women's stories, recommendations, and collective rising leadership can—and will—bring girls greater access to education which will transform their lives, their families, and communities. The Girls Transform Campaign elicits insightful content from young women on the ground, strengthens their confidence as women, and ensures that influencers and powerful institutions hear their stories.
Learn more »

A woman also has issues of low birth spacing and anaemia in India
The rising crimes against women in India, maternal mortality and our missing daughters are all victims of our Culture

Comments

Mukut's picture

Important issue raised

Urmi,

This is an alarming issue. Mothers are dying while pregnant and even after delivery. Culture coupled with misogynistic mindsets have made our country an "unsafe" place for women, whether at home or outside. You are absolutely right about the "sororate" tradition, where the young unwed sister marries her sister's husband, just to keep the family name intact or sometimes to take care of the children. Nobody bothers to ask the girl what she wants. It is done on the pretext of keeping our " rich Indian culture' alive. Such a shame !

Bollywood is no better either. But yes, thanks to few filmmakers today, the scenario seems to be changing. More women oriented movies are being made and they are doing so well at the box-office. The trend needs to be imitated by others.

Thank you again for your brilliant perspective and making the right kind of noise about women's health. We need to save them, before time runs out.

Lots of love to my amazing friend and sister,

Hope you are enjoying the rains !

Hugs,

Mukut Ray

Dear Mukut,

Thank you for your views and feelings. We can bank on ourselves alone and like-minded citizens who take initiative to talk about the issue of maternal mortality and carry this forward till it is heard. In my own experience, conversations in every platform helps hugely, and who knows how things will move, in which direction and just how much?

Wish you the best dear sister and keep the thoughts and sharing coming.

Love and hugs
Urmila Chanam

It takes just one to change many

jap21's picture

Hi Urmila

I could not say how surprised I am to know that this happens in India at such large scale. I would have guessed it happened in very faraway villages where civilization hardly reaches women, but no. You open my eyes to this reality and I wonder how the situation of free speech for women is.

Are women allowed to speak up? Are they connected to the internet in any/some way?

How developed are online communities in India?

Please let us know, so that we can understand India´s reality better, because there are some of us worried about gang rapes in India (Mr William Cleek's suggestion, Olutosin and I backing him up), and I think we must add this maternal mortality to our worries uh?

Let us begin to change the conversation in India´s society. We can do it if we know India better, and if we are willing to give it a try.

Love,

Jackie

Jacqueline Patiño FundActiva
Tarija - Bolivia
South America
www.jap21.wordpress.com

Dear Jackie,

I am most encouraged that you have taken keen interest to take this forward, though I do not know if its going to be a campaign or advocacy initiatives. I would like to bring into your notice that 73% of India's population lives in the villages, while just the few left in cities and towns. And ironically, only 25% of country's health care facilities are concentrated in the rural part of the country! What an uneven distribution of resources!!! So when you talk about maternal mortality, it is also in the context of these majority women who hail from villages.

Women do not have the power to address issues of their well being in their households, especially so after marriage and please remember they marry very early or in childhood. In the year 2010, there were 2,87,000 deaths and India contributes 19% to the global maternal mortality. This is just an estimate and you need to bear in mind that most cases of deaths are not even reported as most of them are not institutional deliveries and out of the ambit of government radar.

As for the status of Indian women's right and permissibility to communicate to others and using internet, this is a question hard to answer, in simple language. It mostly depends on which section of Indian women you are focussing on. While girls and women in cities and those who are empowered by education and supportive families, communication is something Indian women exercise from buying a hair clip to choosing a career, at the same time there are girls/ women who have not frequented even their village community hall and live their lives behind 'purdah' (A custom where a girl/ woman wears her saree around her neck and over her face, fully covering it in the veil, interacting with others through this.)

Thank you Jackie for your thoughts. Do let me know if you need any more information. I will be happy to furnish them.

Love and hugs,
In solidarity,
Urmila Chanam
Activist & Journalist
India

It takes just one to change many

olutosin's picture

Thanks sisters....

My last conversation with a 25 year old Indian graduate lady was "what is the cost of plot of land in Trivandrum?". She smiled and answered, "women are not supposed to know such things......" I was taken aback, because my 11 year old daughter knows the price/cost of a plot of land in the riverside where we work.

She went further to explain that even if she asked her father, he will not offer any answer, but why do you want to know? What about your fiancé? I asked curiously, she said the same thing, he will be curious to know why and will waive it with a finger tip. This clearly shows that even some INDIAN women are not really keen at liberating themselves!!!

The women need mindset change through massive sensitization for reawakening/awakening. I do not really know where to start but I suggest that we just start somewhere.......

Olutosin Oladosu Adebowale
Founder/Project Coordinator
Star of Hope Transformation Centre
512 Road
F Close
Festac Town
Lagos-Nigeria

https:

My most beloved Olutosin,

How is your stay in India?? I believe we have come so much closer now, geographical proximity has made us to understand each others life and work better.

I totally agree with you that women need sensitization and unless they are the major stakeholder in their own development, no outside agency can do a thing.

Love
Urmila Chanam

It takes just one to change many

Oh so true, I feel so much at home in India and thank you for the phone calls.....

Olutosin Oladosu Adebowale
Founder/Project Coordinator
Star of Hope Transformation Centre
512 Road
F Close
Festac Town
Lagos-Nigeria

https:

Urmila Chanam's picture

You my dear are now an Indian

Dear sister Olutosin,

We are ONE. What are phone calls?? Nothing. I am here for you to support you. Looking ahead to meeting you in the weeks to come.

Tight hug
Urmila Chanam

It takes just one to change many

Y's picture

We Are More Than Mothers

We are more than daughters and mothers. We must remember this.
We must become our own people before we procreate.
Men are more than suitors and warriors to protect our progeny.
We must protect our sons until they become their own people
Only then allowing them to practice the promise of procreation.
Fruit buds wither and die on a tree that hasn't reached maturation.

All of the violence continues to excite our fearful animal passions
To create, before we die, more of our own genetics for our earth.
When we stop the violence and encourage universal parenting,
We will, once again, have an Eden that our progeny can protect.
The only power we honor should be the protection of innocence;
This is what humanity lost and has been longing for, ever since.

It is too late, after a woman/girl is pregnant to begin healthcare for her. We must teach girls how to prevent pregnancy, at all costs, until they have the resources (physical, emotional, intellectual, spiritual, and communal) to take care of themselves.

Yvette

Dear Y,

It was such a moving poem!!! 'The only power we honor should be the protection of innocence....' Thank you so much for sharing with me.

You are right that a woman waiting to take care of herself in pregnancy is way too late. She has to begin the exercise from much earlier. It is the habit, the awakening and the resolve.

Keep the sharing going. Looking ahead to share more thoughts.

In solidarity,
Urmila Chanam
India

It takes just one to change many

Y's picture

Thank you for your

Thank you for your encouragement.

Yvette

I read with interest your post and the comments that follow. As you say, conversations in every platform helps hugely.

Given the high percentage of women living in the villages, I wonder if there are venues where the women can gather and hold those conversations that are happening over the internet. In some countries where women's movements are restricted, communities have learnt that women share information in the beauty parlours or at the markets and so women's groups started forming in these meeting places providing a safe venue where women could speak freely amongst themselves.

We are consumed by the internet that sometimes we forget that some of the most important conversations can happen in kitchens or over laundry.

Dear Janice,

It's been such a long time..........and I am so glad to see you here now. Thank you!!!

A lot of movement is already under way in my country, not with the internet, but with nurturing women groups to empower them, first economically and gradually over time, as citizens in their community and decision makers. This has come about in the form of Self-Help Group mobilization.

If you want to know more about the Self Help Group I will enclose some related links Sister. Years back when I was with UNICEF where my only job was to form SHGs and nurture and mentor them.That time as a fresher I had no discernment why SHGs were seen as THE THING in development. Today I realise that reaching the entire women folk is impossible but having contact groups functional in every community in the form of women SHGs facilitate information dissemination (related to health, safety, education etc) .

If you see the entire women body I just described, on an average they are women who do not access Internet. Like I told you a section of educated girls and women in cities and towns do access internet and forums but the percentage is dismiss-able.

We can empower women through a very aggressive outreach plan. This outreach plan has begun through national health programs in the form of ASHA workers but we have miles to go before we sleep.

I encourage you to discuss more of this Janice. Let this lead to some ideas and action plans that we on WP can execute as a campaign.

Have a great day ahead.

With lots of love
Urmila Chanam
India

It takes just one to change many

JaniceW's picture

Outreach plan

I agree that an aggressive outreach plan is key to reaching those women who are in the villages, uneducated and without the internet. I think that along with these campaigns must be programs that educate mothers on how to raise their children to respect women and girls.

Speaking to women and girls only goes so far if the men are not supportive of the programs. I believe that it will take a new generation of men, who are raised by these self-aware women and who learn to respect equality, to stand up for women and give them an equal voice. These will be the men raised by women such as yourself.

Y's picture

We now have conception

We now have conception control implants that are good for several years at a time. A campaign of making these available to all who ask, like the "morning after" pill is now in the United States of America, may be first step in protecting women from the unavoidable effects of pregnancy and motherhood. These implants would be virtually undetectable after implantation.

Yvette

Urmila Chanam's picture

No Control over fertility

Dear Y,

That is a good information, is this conception control implant surgically done or it is fairly simple that any woman could help herself with? Is it available globally, even in developing countries like India?

I have my reservations to believe that a birth control measure addresses the problem of high maternal mortality. You have to realize these women do not even go to hospitals near their houses in their villages because they live in subjugation and do not exercise their will for health. They also have a limited social interface other than their own families, and have no information on any innovations let alone birth control.

Subjugation, ignorance, cultural impositions are the biggest barrier to health, livelihood and education for women in my country.

Thank you sister for your suggestions. I will read on the innovation you mentioned. Have a great weekend ahead.

Love always
Urmila Chanam

It takes just one to change many

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