1st Session, 41st Parliament,
Volume 148, Issue 165

Thursday, May 23, 2013
The Honourable Noël A. Kinsella, Speaker

International Day to End Obstetric Fistula

Hon. Mobina S. B. Jaffer: Honourable senators, today is the International Day to End Obstetric Fistula. More than 2 million women and girls in developing countries are living with obstetric fistula, a hole in the vagina or rectum caused by labour that is prolonged, often for days, without treatment. Usually the baby dies. Since the fistula leaves women leaking urine or feces, it typically results in social isolation, depression and deepening poverty.

As Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund, points out, obstetric fistula is preventable and in most cases treatable, yet more than 50,000 new cases develop each year. Dr. Osotimehin stated:

The persistence of fistula… reflects chronic health inequities and health-care system constraints, as well as wider challenges, such as gender and socio-economic inequality, child marriage and early child bearing, all of which can undermine the lives of women and girls and interfere with their enjoyment of their basic human rights.

Honourable senators, I want to share my encounter with the father of a young girl, Amina, who had a fistula. I saw him enter Khartoum Hospital with his daughter on his back. He was sweating profusely and, besides being exhausted, he looked like a man who was completely dejected.

A few days later I spoke with him. He told me that his daughter was married at the age of 14, as was the community’s custom. She went to live with her husband in a village very far away from him. A month previously he found out that Amina had been abandoned by her husband because, while delivering her child, she had torn her vagina.

There was no medical help, she had no control of her bladder and she smelled all the time. Amina’s father found out that Amina had been abandoned and he went to her village. To his absolute horror he found his daughter cowering in a small hut with no food or water; she was unable to walk.

The father spoke to Amina’s husband, who had remarried and had no desire to help Amina. Amina’s husband went further, blaming Amina’s father for her poor health and insisting that Amina’s father return the cows he had provided when Amina married.

Amina’s father carried his daughter out of that compound. He could not take her on a bus as the drivers would not accept Amina because she smelled and would disturb the other riders.

The father walked for three days to Khartoum.

Honourable senators, Amina would not have suffered for so many years if she had received proper health care. When I returned to Khartoum six months later I met a renewed Amina who was not only walking but also helping other young women. She had once again regained her dignity and purpose to live.

Honourable senators, obstetric fistula destroys the lives of young women who do not get help while delivering babies. They are not statistics or stories from another time. This is happening today, on our watch. We can do more for girls like Amina.