Currently, metrics of health in Ethiopian women are among the worst in the world. The large majority of Ethiopian women currently living in poverty continue to be subjected to harmful cultural practices and gender discrimination including early marriage, large families and unattended births. Over 50% of women in Ethiopia currently live under the poverty level and only 35% of the population is literate.[i]
NATURE AND MAGNITUDE
One third of the general population is affected by poverty. On top of this 50% of Ethiopian women live in rural areas under the poverty level.[ii] This widespread poverty is also responsible for widespread illiteracy rates. Women suffer the most from this because many of the cultural traditions that are harmful to female reproductive health have remained unchallenged in rural regions.
These harmful cultural practices include, genitalia cutting, early marriage, high esteem for large families, and birthing without a skilled attendant. Currently, the age at which females are getting married is extremely young. On average Ethiopian women are married by 17.[iii] The people hold a high value for large families and early child bearing as Ethiopian women give birth to an average of 7,07 children per household. To make matters worse, only 6% of Ethiopian women use a skilled attendant during delivery and only 10% deliver in a professional institution. This quantitative data suggests that the majority of Ethiopian women are giving birth in unsafe living conditions.[iv]
Simply living in rural poverty where harmful cultural traditions are practiced is the predominant risk factor for Ethiopian women. Cultural traditions are widespread but the most harmful practices remain most prominent in the rural regions. The population in urban areas has better literacy rates and access to information and as such these women are less likely to fall victim to practices like say female genital cutting.
As a result of these practices and cultural traditions the country has witnessed an extremely high maternal mortality rate. Ethiopia has among the highest with 350 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births.[v] Giving birth in a household and without the presence of a professional assistant is extremely dangerous and is statistically the leading cause in maternal mortality rates. It can result in death for both the woman and the child.[vi]
There are also many harmful effects associated with female genital cutting as well. These effects include; urinary and reproductive tract infection, death by severe bleeding, abscess formation, and increased susceptibility to HIV/AIDS, hepatitis, and other blood-born diseases.[vii]
Changing these harmful cultural practices is the focus of our agendas and will improve women’s reproductive health (RH), which in turn will lower the maternal mortality rates that plague the country. As a consequence of resolving these issues Ethiopia will have a healthier population and will be able to increase its` economic growth. The WHO`s Millennium Development Goals project that Ethiopia has the potential to become a middle-income country by 2015 if we can solve these women’s health issues.[viii]
Solutions include empowering women by breaking social norms for females in Ethiopian society. By advertising the harm that results from these practices and changing the people’s concept of gender stereotypes, we could improve the living condition of women across the region. Better access to education will prove most useful in improving awareness and reducing discrimination against the female gender. Female genital cutting is among one of the most culturally engrained problems affecting women’s health and hence effective solutions are hard to come by. We must make insistent prevention and information campaigns that allow the population to smoothly transition into healthier cultural practices.
Lastly, we must ensure that women at a minimum give birth within the presence of skilled attendance. An alarming 89% of Ethiopian women do not have access to proper obstetric care.[ix] Education and information reform alone will not be enough to resolve this. Their must be more funding of programs charged with creating a network of qualified staff and health professionals as well as creating easy access facilities around rural Ethiopia.
The International Centre for Migration and Health Development (ICMHD) continues to build proposals aimed at resolving issues and public health threats like this around the globe. If you would like to contribute to the cause and learn more about our current and past projects feel free to visit our official donations web-page.
- [i] Alemu, Bogalech, and Mengistu Asnake. Women’s Empowerment in Ethiopia: New Solutions to Ancient Problems. [S.l.]: Pathfinder International, 2007.
- [ii] Ibid
- [iii] “Ethiopia Links.” The Fistula Foundation: Home. Web. 16 Nov. 2010. http://www.fistulafoundation.org/hospital/womenshealth.html
- [iv] http://www.unicef.org/infobycountry/ethiopia_statistics.html
- [v] Unstats | Millennium Indicators. http://mdgs.un.org/unsd/mdg/SeriesDetail.aspx?srid=553&crid=231
- [vi] “Maternal Mortality « International Health Research.” International Health Research.
- [vii] http://www.unicef.org/protection/index_genitalmutilation.html
- [viii] Ibid