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Lola Huete Machado

Conflicted Normalities

Por: | 13 de diciembre de 2012

Por: Faith Schwieker-Miyanzadi (journalist, Médicos Sin Fronteras, Nairobi, Kenya)

Spanish version here

Where gender roles are clear, where men walk in and sit in a raw of their own, in a socially defined sitting arrangement. Where women, without word, take their side of the hall and sit calmly; listening and waiting. “They want it like that.” I’m told, so I have to leave for the women’s side of the room: respect for culture, a fact one has to be very conscious about to live and work in this community.

Among the women are MSF midwives, doctors and other staff who’ve helped forge forth a two-year project in the area.

Welcome to Ijara, an area prone to chronic recurrent drought and chronic malnutrition, high maternal mortality and high TB incidences. A district of about 87,771 people, where MSF has been working for two years now – from 2010 to 2012 to promote sexual and reproductive health. This is the handover workshop held by MSF and other stakeholders.

Ijara Women
Every day, approximately 800 women die from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth. Here, Ijara Women. Women´s row, on the other side, the seats reserved for men. Faith Schwieker-Miyandazi / MSF

In a district where a man takes pride in his wife delivering at home and a woman’s respect and prowess is, among other things, dependant on home delivery, one can only imagine the time and effort it takes to change such strong convictions. In fact, we have spent two years encouraging women to visit the Antenatal care units of the Sangailu and Hulugho division health centres.

Illiteracy levels (in terms of formal education – ability to read and write) in the area are quiet high and this affects the way people choose to access healthcare. I say choose because the decision of a woman to go to hospital, say, to deliver, does not necessarily lie with her but her husband/male partner. Therefore, if the husband is not convinced of the importance of institutional delivery, the woman will not get permission to go to hospital and therefore risks death in case of childbirth complications.

Moreover, there are traditional beliefs engrained in the community that haunt safe motherhood: For instance, for a long time, women in Ijara have lost their babies due to intrapartum haemorrhage or postpartum haemorrhage. Lack of knowledge made them always pin the cause of death to bad omens or the bad eye or other traditional beliefs.

To see a woman now, comfortably talk about reproductive health and use words like postpartum haemorrhage in acronym form – PPH will leave any doctor, medical professional or layman impressed. This was a long and rigorous journey that MSF had to undertake to see women’s education in issues of reproductive health come thus far.

Having gruntingly changed my sitting position earlier, to the women’s side, I sit somewhat relaxed, observing, waiting to see how things would turn out as the hall fills up. The men’s side is slowly filling up as there are more men than women in the hall; men continue to pour in and so do a few women. I turn my head to look behind from time to time. As the men’s side fills up, I notice a woman take two more seats to the opposite side.

After a while four more men walk in and noticing the dearth of seats, take two more from the women’s side. This went on for a while until one man came in and took a sit on the women’s side – I thought he must be a stranger to the community and waited to talk to him during the break just to confirm my thought – he was a community member! I asked whether he’d noticed that there was a pattern of sitting in the room, and he wasn’t amused. He told me, “yes, I noticed but I think the situation would have been worse if a woman sat on the men’s side.” That was enough to tell me the place of women in this community.

Contrary to my fear, the participation of women during the meeting was good, especially considering their limited number. This could have been because they felt free to sit among themselves; to share and air their views and feel secure on their own side. This I appreciated.

After the meeting, the situation kept replaying on my mind forcing me to confront the scenario over and over again. In retrospect, I came to appreciate the situation. I mean, it doesn’t really have to fit into my mindset or a particular way of doing things to be perceived as right, normal or working. I came to surely accept that this community has a way of going about their own things: they have a way of sitting at public forums, they have a way of airing their views at such forums and they have a system of conducting their business.

The situation might have seemed abnormal or unusual to me but it was apparently very normal to the others. So, whether I understand this or not, it works and it works for them. However, I haven’t still lost hope that more men will take seats on the women’s side or women on the men’s side next time. With time, if this happens, I hope it would be realised that both gender can sit on either side and still be able to air their views in the same measure or maybe not, maybe never!

I know now, that normal to one, may not be normal to the other as normalities may conflict. However, if one norm works for a people without creating conflict and endangering a section of the community or stepping on the rights of the population, then isn’t that a ‘positive’ norm?

My mind filled with such thoughts, I leave Ijara knowing that change is inevitable. It will take a while, maybe a short while, maybe a long while but change, whichever way it comes, will surely come and let itself felt. I just hope that when it comes, regardless of how it comes, it will not upset the strides already made by the community in health issues.

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Love this part:

The situation might have seemed abnormal or unusual to me but it was apparently very normal to the others. So, whether I understand this or not, it works and it works for them. However, I haven’t still lost hope that more men will take seats on the women’s side or women on the men’s side next time. With time, if this happens, I hope it would be realised that both gender can sit on either side and still be able to air their views in the same measure or maybe not, maybe never!

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Sobre los autores

Lola Huete Machado. Redactora de El País y El País Semanal desde 1993, ha publicado reportajes sobre los cinco continentes. Psicóloga y viajera empedernida, aterrizó en Alemania al caer el muro de Berlín y aún así, fue capaz de regresar a España y contarlo. Compartiendo aquello se hizo periodista. Veinte años lleva. Un buen día miró hacia África, y descubrió que lo ignoraba todo. Por la necesidad de saber fundó este blog. Ahora coordina la sección Planeta Futuro.

Chema Caballero Chema Caballero. Llegó a África en 1992 y desde entonces su vida giró en torno a sus gentes, su color y olor, sus alegrías y angustias, sus esperanzas y ganas de vivir. Fue misionero javeriano y llevó a cabo programas de educación y recuperación de niñ@s soldado en Sierra Leona durante dos décadas, que fueron modelo.

José NaranjoJosé Naranjo. Freelance residente en Dakar desde 2011. Viajó al continente para profundizar en el fenómeno de las migraciones, del que ha escrito dos libros, 'Cayucos' (2006) y 'Los Invisibles de Kolda' (2009), que le llevaron a Marruecos, Malí, Mauritania, Argelia, Gambia, Cabo Verde y Senegal, donde aterrizó finalmente. Le apasiona la energía que desprende África.

Ángeles JuradoÁngeles Jurado. Periodista y escritora. Trabaja en el equipo de comunicación de Casa África desde 2007. Le interesa la cultura, la cooperación, la geopolítica o la mirada femenina del mundo. De África prefiere su literatura, los medios, Internet y los movimientos sociales, pero ante todo ama a Ben Okri, Véronique Tadjo y Boubacar Boris Diop, por citar solo tres plumas imprescindibles.

Chido OnumahChido Onumah. Reputado escritor y periodista nigeriano. Trabaja como tal en su país y en Ghana, Canadá e India. Está involucrado desde hace una década en formar a periodistas en África. Es coordinador del centro panafricano AFRICMIl (en Abuja), enfocado en la educación mediática de los jóvenes. Prepara su doctorado en la Universidad Autónoma de Barcelona. Su último libro se titula 'Time to Reclaim Nigeria'.

Akua DjanieAkua Djanie. Así se hace llamar como escritora. Pero en televisión o en radio es Blakofe. Con más de tres lustros de carrera profesional, Akua es uno de los nombres sonados en los medios de su país. Residente en Reino Unido, fue en 1995, en uno de sus viajes a Ghana, cuando llegó su triunfo televisivo. Hoy vive y trabaja entre ambos países. La puedes encontrar en su página, Blakofe; en la revista New African, en Youtube aquí o aquí...

Beatriz Leal Riesco Beatriz Leal Riesco. Investigadora, docente, crítica y comisaria independiente. Nómada convencida de sus virtudes terapéuticas, desde 2011 es programadora del African Film Festival de NYC. Sissako, Mbembe, Baldwin y Simone la cautivaron, lanzándose a descubrir el arte africano y afroamericano. Su pasión aumenta con los años.

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