This paper is an analysis of the documentary A Walk to Beautiful that exposes the plight of poor women in Ethiopia who are affected by obstetric fistula, a condition where an affected woman cannot control the passing of urine, feces or, in some cases, both of them. The majority of cases of obstetric fistula occur in poor women when they use much energy to do their chores. During such a process, their body is deprived of the ability to withstand strain such as that of giving birth. The urine bladder may end up developing a hole that allows leaking of urine. Physically, the condition is taxing to the part of the patient because of wetting the cloths and the stench that comes from those clothes. In extreme cases, women who have fistula are isolated by the society, and this psychologically affects them since they feel different from other people.
From the documentary, Wubete seems to have suffered severely from the condition and therefore I would like to ask her how she felt after the third attempt of performing surgery on her. Even though she was not completely healed by the surgery and she had to use a plug, I am curious how this development has changed her perception of the society and women in particular. In addition, I would like to know how she feels when the four vulnerable orphans whose parents died of HIV call her mother and what her wish for such children who are likely to fall victims of the situations that led to her condition is.
Since most women who are affected by obstetric fistula are young women who were early forced to understanding the cultural needs that traditionally make people want to marry, their children will go a long way to unmasking the mystery of the condition.
Obstetric fistula is a condition of the poor and the ignorant in society. Most hospitals in the country become unwilling to welcome fistula patients, because they lack enough facilities to keep them.
An exceptional case is building of the hospital to specifically deal with the cases of fistula among women in Ethiopia. This hospital gives women an opportunity to learn and be encouraged from each other thus listening to other people’s story act as a morale booster to them.
Fistula is treated through surgery where the hole on the bladder is sealed. However, where the sealing of the hole is not possible, a plug is used even though this form of treatment works with a few women. Prevention of fistula is through education to the parents of girls to allow them to mature before marrying them. This is because most of the women who develop fistula are married early and therefore their bodies are not able to withhold the strain of carrying a baby, which in turn causes fistula.
Women in the film are regarded as childbearing tools who should be married off early enough so that they can bear children. They are not entitled to education or to grow up enough before they get married. This is in contrast with the United States where women go to school to learn and they decide whether they want to marry and to whom they should marry. Nevertheless, in United States and Ethiopia, women who have fistula are isolated by the society because of the stench and the physical condition that they are in, even though in the United States hospital conditions are far much better than those of women in the film are.
Getting women who have fistula talk to each other is important in helping to encourage those who may be thinking that they are alone in that situation. It serves to show them that they can get out of their conditions through medical surgery and be accepted again in the society. Sharing stories by fistula women encourages others with similar condition that the condition is not only treatable but also preventable.
Obstetric fistula was largely missing from the international agenda because women who had this condition were isolated by the society and therefore cases of fistula were not reported. It was only until fistula patients started to come out that the international community realized the seriousness of the problem among women, especially in poor countries. Increased awareness can help fistula patients by encouraging them to seek for treatment in hospitals. Awareness also enhances the ability of women to address the causes of fistula such as early marriages since they will encourage young girls to pursue education rather than getting married. There is need to address the issue of early marriages especially in poor countries where girls are seen as sources of wealth through marriage. Additionally, governments need to invest in building fistula hospitals and encourage fistula patients to seek for treatment in those hospitals.