Women's health - the taboo subjects.
In this issue of Footsteps, we look at a number of health issues concerning women, that are not often discussed openly. Though the issues are all directly to do with women’s health we trust they will also be of interest to our male readers, as these are all issues which men need to understand, care about and, in some cases, to act upon. Some, like female excision, raise important issues of social change in beliefs and custom.
‘Women make up half the world’s population, yet they receive one tenth of the world’s income, provide two thirds of the world’s working hours and own only one hundredth of the world’s property.’ (International Labour Conference 1980)
As babies and young girls, they often receive poorer diets and less medical care than their brothers. Many women in developing countries suffer from poor health, inadequate diets and overwork. Women’s health needs are often given very low priority by health officials. We hope that by raising some of the more ‘taboo’ health matters in this issue we can encourage awareness, discussion and openness. Unlike most issues, we have used few diagrams this time to avoid offense. Sometimes it has been necessary to use difficult medical terms and on page 3 we have introduced the idea of a regular glossary to help readers understand some of the more difficult terms used in this issue.
The issue of female excision is one that can raise strong feelings. Over 110 million women are excised – mostly in countries in East and West Africa. In countries such as Ethiopia, Somalia, Sierra Leone and Sudan, over 80% of women are excised. It is also practised in South East Asia and Latin America. We raise the health problems this practice can cause and use one girl’s story as an example of how difficult it can be to go against traditional custom. For many women excision is still regarded as vital to maintain purity, gain respect and reach full maturity. It is usually women who make the decisions about excision. Only through open discussion of this practice will come an understanding of the risks to health and well-being. Only then will women be able to make their own free and balanced choice.
Women are often regarded as second class citizens, taught to feel ashamed of their bodies and normal needs and functions. Yet in God’s eyes we are all of equal value and concern. We hope this issue will help readers to discuss embarrassing subjects more openly and provide more understanding of women’s health needs.
by Isabel Carter