Charged for screaming at childbirth

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Photo: Troels Graugaard

Zimbabwe, with a GDP of $US500 per person and an average yearly income of $US150, is one of the world’s poorest countries. Not coincidentally, it is also one of the most corrupt. In a worldwide report on corruption by Transparency International (TI) 62 percent of Zimbabwean respondents said they had paid a bribe in the past year. 

Also not coincidentally, women bear more than their fair share of this poverty and corruption, one of the most shocking of which was a local hospital that was found to be charging women $5 for every scream they emitted during childbirth.

The fee, ostensibly for “raising false alarm” was in reality, as The Washington Post put it, “clearly aimed at separating women from their money.”

It doesn’t end there. This fee, essentially robbing women of their right to holler their heads off in the throes of unimaginable pain, is in addition to Zimbabwe’s mandatory $50 delivery fee.

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That’s a $50 fee plus $5 for every hard-earned shriek in a country where the average person makes $150 a year. Unsurprisingly many women simply cannot afford to pay this, leaving them no option but to give birth at home, which, as romantic as it may seem to some western mothers-to-be, actually causes eight Zimbabwean women to die in childbirth every day.

Whilst their plight is often a lonely one, in the scope of their suffering, Zimbabwe’s women are far from alone. Across the world, women and girls are disproportionately affected by poverty. In cultures where young girls are discouraged and often outright prevented from getting an education, they are married off as early as possible, having children of their own not long after.

These girls are lucky to survive the pregnancy since giving birth before the age of 20 leaves a woman five times more likely to die of complications than a woman over 20.

The effects of grinding poverty are far reaching. In India, it has resulted in women succumbing to sterilisation, tempted by the payment of $10, which is roughly a week’s work, with which to feed their families. They are not told, however, that the procedure would be performed with rusty tools in an unsterilised environment. 

Not for nothing is India considered one of the worst places to be a woman. A Guardian report that reveals that poor Indian women are being forced into prostitution in the Middle East, after being lured there with the promise of well paid jobs. 

But, our world being what it is, there are some who may be more concerned with the economic costs of feminised poverty as opposed to the human. They may be interested to know that, in India, adolescent pregnancy results in $10 billion in lost potential income, whilst in Uganda, 85 percent of girls leave school early, leaving that country with $10 billion in lost potential earnings.

Women in the west aren’t spared either. American women are 29 percent more likely to be poor than American men, while single mothers are 68 percent more likely to live in poverty than their male counterparts. 

In Australia, women suffer from an accumulation of a lifetime’s worth of income inequality that sees them retire with roughly half the superannuation of men.  In a speech to the Australia Institute in 2009, the Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick, revealed that the gender pay gap combined with the greater role played by women in unpaid and undervalued caring work across the life cycle, means retired women have 1.7 times less the disposable income of retired men. Divorced women have the lowest levels of income, assets and superannuation.

“If we all have a birth right to gender equality” Broderick asks, “Why is poverty the end-point for so many women - is it right that poverty should be the reward for a lifetime spent caring?”

Again, this feminisation of poverty affects the entire community, since it leaves women reliant on the Aged Pension. In 2009, 73 percent of single age pensioners were women, 1 in 3 of whom were living in poverty.  

However, there is a silver lining in all this, for if women and girls bear the brunt of the problem then they also hold the key to the solution. Currently, less than 1 US cent out of every international aid dollar is spent on girls, and yet, research shows that women who are giving the opportunity to earn an income invest 90% of that back into their families (compared with 40-60% of men).

According to The Girl Effect, an imitative aimed at empowering girls by investing in women’s health, lobbying for legislative change, supporting female entrepreneurs, and grassroots education, “By delaying child marriage and early birth for one million girls in Bangladesh, the country could potentially add $69 billion to the national income over these girls' lifetimes.” 

Not to mention improving the maternal mortality and lives of those women and girls. These benefits filter through to the next generation since educated women are far less likely to approve of traditions that perpetuate the cycle of poverty and discrimination such as child marriage and female genital mutilation.

It’s not only the developing world that will benefit. At the 2011 Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation's Women and the Economy Summit, Hillary Clinton, then US Secretary of State called women “the vital source” of economic growth.

According to Clinton, "Reductions in barriers to female labor force participation would increase America's GDP by 9 percent, the Euro Zone's by 13 percent, and Japan's by 16 percent.”

Not only does investing in women and girls improve their own lives immeasurably, it benefits entire communities and makes good economic sense. And if the social, economic and legal barriers that are proving so destructive to the financial and physical wellbeing of women seem insurmountable, then perhaps we can dismantle them piece-by-piece by starting small. Like, say, not charging women for the privilege of screaming during childbirth.

 

17 comments

  • "retired women have 1.7 times less the disposable income of retired men"
    If women's gender is causing them to have less retirement savings, remember that women's gender is also giving them an extra 5 years of life. I think economies around the world need to start considering raising the retirement age of females by 5 years.

    Commenter
    Trevor
    Location
    Sydney
    Date and time
    August 12, 2013, 8:18AM
    • Or alternatively men's gender is giving them five less years of life, so perhaps they (and society) should examine the reasons men are less likely to visit a doctor when they need to. A couple of years ago, on the Age website, the head of the anti-cancer council stated that in cancers that affect men and women equally, men's life expectancy is roughly two years less than women. Sam de Brito wrote a great article on this a year or so ago.

      Commenter
      bornagirl
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      August 12, 2013, 9:02AM
    • Didn't read it properly (again) did you?

      Commenter
      Ripley
      Location
      Hunting Aliens
      Date and time
      August 12, 2013, 9:53AM
    • In the West In the West In the West how do you not realise this article is specifically written about developing non-Western countries how how

      Commenter
      Brabra
      Date and time
      August 12, 2013, 11:06AM
    • And this is one of the most ridiculous comments I have ever read. You're suggesting that not only is it OK for women to be less rewarded for their work, you're saying they would have to work longer!!

      Commenter
      Ben
      Location
      Canberra
      Date and time
      August 12, 2013, 11:25AM
  • I support the banning of female genital mutilation. I also support the banning of male genital mutilation (politely called "circumcision").
    The surgery is not always without complications (many otherwise healthy baby boys die in the West every year due to this needless procedure, to say nothing of how many die in less developed countries). And even the British NHS website states "an uncircumcised penis is more sensitive than a circumcised penis, meaning that circumcised men may experience less pleasure during sex".
    And isn't that why we want it banned for girls?

    Commenter
    Trevor
    Location
    Sydney
    Date and time
    August 12, 2013, 8:30AM
    • Trevor,

      I'll ignore your blatant conversation-jacking in order to answer your question.

      There are many reasons that FGM should be banned, and the reduction of sexual pleasure is only one of them. A more potent concern is that the procedure itself (at least in its more severe forms) is extremely dangerous and leads to serious complications in about 50% of girls it is performed on, up to one-third of whom die as a result. (Here's a reference for that horrible figure: http://www.path.org/files/FGM-The-Facts.htm)

      While I agree with you that male circumcision is also a breach of a child's right to bodily autonomy and should not be performed unless medically necessary, we are just not comparing apples with apples here. FGM is NEVER medically necessary. Instead of removing a small amount of skin and leaving the genitals in working order, the aim is actually to destroy or remove entire organs, and may extend to a procedure in which the entire external genitalia are cut away and the woman sewn up, leaving only a tiny opening the size of a match head. FGM leads to the highest maternal and infant mortality rates in the world, as well as complications including obstructed labour and menstruation, obstructed urinary tracts, infection, haemmorhage, organ damage and severe pain. It is usually performed by unskilled persons without anaesthesia or sterile equipment. Girls routinely contract tetanus or even HIV as a result of the way the procedure is performed.

      Need I go on, or do you understand the difference yet?

      Commenter
      Red Pony
      Date and time
      August 12, 2013, 11:07AM
    • I don't support circumcision either, but it's worthwhile noting the difference - the equivalent to FGM in men would be the removal of the entirety of the penis - a form of total castration. This is why people tend to get very horrified at FGM - the aim in FGM isn't anything to do with archaic cleanliness rituals, but rather it's to ensure 'purity' through making sex agonising.

      Commenter
      Gray
      Date and time
      August 12, 2013, 11:29AM
  • I'm all for better health and education for women around the world. However, there are no counties I know of that mistreat women and girls that don't mistreat men and boys. Counties that have child marriages usually have child soldiers and child labourers. India used to have forced sterilization of men under the rule of Indira Gandhi. If programs to benefit girls are at the expense of boys and programs for women are at the expense of men then I shudder to think of the consequences of a generation of brutalized, poorly educated and marginalized men in those countries.

    Commenter
    JohnA
    Date and time
    August 12, 2013, 9:47AM
    • All in all a very poor article. Ruby Hamad tries the old (and dishonest) trick of putting two things next to each other and hoping the reader equates them somehow. There's no parallel between women being brutalized in poor countries and Australian women not having enough superannuation. Ruby does a disservice to both causes by trying to pretend there is.

      Also, what exactly is Ruby asking to be done? Read through the article again and you'll see... Nothing. No solutions presented, just a random quote from Hillary Clinton and some feelgood waffle. Let's be honest. This article is just a rant that rambles over a multitude of unrelated issues and offers no solutions. I think Australians are a bit better than that; whether we're men or women.

      Commenter
      Jacob
      Date and time
      August 12, 2013, 10:55AM

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