For my final project I will be investigating how the inequalities in political, economic, and social power for women have led to higher maternal mortality rates in Yemen. I will do this by using the Critical Medical Anthropological theory to critically exam this health issue. I choose this theory because I believe it focuses on how the mistreatment of whoever is not in power or the “little people” aka the women, have suffered from the choices that the men have made. The theory also focuses on both the biology as well as the culture, including political economic, and the social aspect of maternal mortality rates and other health issues. The theory allows for the health issue to be recognized and for the country to see what they could be doing to change it (Joralemon 2017). By focusing on the women in Yemen critical medical anthropologists are able to identify the issue and provide valuable insight about it. The inequalities that women face compared to men start with their political and social rights. Many of these ideas were not a part of their culture or religion originally but became interpreted by men this way. The men then wrote laws that gave them political, economic, and social power, while reinforcing that women had none and were controlled by men. This created a culture of inequality, belittlement, and neglect. To make matters worse Yemen now faces a war that has led mostly women to suffering the consequences of the men’s mistakes and ignorance. By looking at the history of this country with this perspective you can see that the treatment of women by men has completely caused this problem and that women are not to blame. To gain insight into the full story behind the health issue of maternal mortality rates I will start off with Yemen’s history, how their culture before the war caused and reinforced the rates, and how the culture after the war has further worsened the health issue for women.
To start off, Yemen has a history that ended with men dominantly having power politically, economically, and socially. Before Islam was invented men were responsible for trading and tribal welfare, while the women were responsible for having children, taking care of them, and taking care of their living space (Baobaid 2006). Women had essentially no rights and were treated like property by men. Their husbands let friends and guests share their wives with them. Furthermore, women and girls were forced into marriages and had children for the men. Girls as young as eight were becoming brides while they were still children (Lindsay 2015). When their husbands died their inheritance was given away to their eldest son (Baobaid 2006). Eventually Islam was created and was adopted into their society. However, the men interpreted the Qur’an how they wished and created ideas of oppression and patriarchal conservatism even though the Qur’an stated that women had the right to interpret it for themselves (Baobaid 2006). Thus, the legislation that was created put the men in power and left the women to suffer. Men also made sure that when children were young boys were highly recognized and praised for their achievements while girls were not. Girls were taught growing up that their place is under the male and they are inferior. Men abused women and suffered no consequence because of these laws and ideas. This has further increased the ideas that women should not have political power, employment opportunities, or much education. When women disobeyed the men, the men were allowed to punish them in whatever way deemed fit. The reason the legislation and interpretation were able to go on like this was because the men only changed the negotiable traditions and left non-negotiable traditions and the overall message of the Qur’an the same (Baobaid 2006). On a slightly different note, Yemen used to be divided into two different countries, the North and South. The North was not open to outsiders, while the South was and had good relations with the European communist countries. Yet, when communism was driven away the South lost a lot of economic support, while in the North they were in economic trouble from the Gulf War. In order to survive they merged but brought all of their problems with them. Currently, Yemen has a young population, many people live in poverty, and life in rural areas is worse than in urban areas (Baobaid 2006). Without even discussing maternal mortality rates, by looking at the health issue in regard to their culture’s history you can clearly see that the issue would not be a priority medically or politically and women would have no say in changing it.
Secondly, the culture before the war played a key role in the high maternal mortality rates. Due to their history of oppression made into law and their conservative government women were treated as inferior to men and had little to no rights. Girls as young as eight were sold by their families to much older men into marriage (Ramdani 2013). Some children were taken out of school so that they could get married. Women had no say in ending the marriage either. Men made all the decisions for them and kept them segregated from other men. If they were allowed to leave the house, they had to wear a black cloak and headdress covering their entire body. There was a big focus on loyalty to the family and if a husband thought their wife was dishonoring them or being disloyal, they could kill her to restore the family honor (Baobaid 2006). Despite this, the families benefit because they don’t have to pay to feed that child anymore and got some money out of the trade. Upon being married, the women and young girls were forced to have children while they were still children themselves. Although their bodies were not ready to have children, so they ended up dying (Lindsay 2015). Women of age were dying too due complications too such as bleeding, infection, and age (Lindsay 2015). To make matters women in rural areas couldn’t afford doctors, midwives, or did not have access to health centers or transportation to them because of their poverty (Serouri, et al 2012). The public hospitals were not well kept up and lacked the supplies needed as well as staff. Only the richest families in Yemen could afford proper treatment through private hospitals. Eventually women started to get sick of the way they were being treated medically, socially, economically, and politically and fought to gain rights for themselves. They began to join the career field in respected positions, gained seats in the parliament, and were working on a constitution that gave them real rights and political power (al-Sakkaf 2017). Regardless of this, once the government was overthrown the women’s rights movement was too. From a critical medical anthropological perspective, you can see how the cultural constructivism has created maternal mortality rates by forcing the women to suffer in the positions they are put in. Thus, leading the health issue to become intertwined with different social issues (Baer, et al 2013).
Lastly, the war has worsened the already oppressive culture, further hurting women and increasing maternal mortality rates. The government was overthrown in a coup and the feminist movement was cast aside. The movement was put on the back burner because it was “not the time” for the women (al-Sakkaf 2017). Women are frustrated because they are further behind in progress than they were before. What is ironic about the war the country faces are that the men caused it, while the women have played a heavy hand in keeping the peace. The men in power became afraid of what the women would be able to do with their power, so they sought to oppress it. Furthermore, they are uniformed about most issues, actively seek out violence, and lead through fear. So, yet again the women are suffering from the men’s shortcomings. In regard to maternal mortality rates the issue has only gotten worse. As of now there is a ratio of 200 maternal deaths to 100,000 births (Lindsay 2015). The raging war has destroyed 274 hospitals and left only 37 percent of the half of hospitals left that can provide the proper services for birthing and antenatal care (Ansbori, et al 2017). The hospitals before the war were overcrowded and lacked supplies and staff and now it is much worse. Heath care workers aren’t getting paid anymore and have to rely on NGO’s for a salary (Ansbori, et al 2017). This has caused a decrease in them. Even the private hospitals have had their services decline further, decreasing the proper treatment still available to the rich (Penney 2011). Finally, as if that is not enough you still have the same problems of women in rural areas being unable to access health care workers or practices because of increased poverty, lack of transportation, and hospitals getting blown up. Women are dying while giving birth because they do not have the proper education to do it themselves or at home and are suffering from complications of bleeding, infection, or due to age. Approximately seven women a day are dying due to complications (Arabia 2012). This problem further increases for women as their husbands are dying and they lose their source of income. It is so important that we look at the health issue for maternal mortality rates in Yemen through the critical medical anthropological theory so we can identify the causes and where to start with solutions. It serves as the connection between populations and policy-makers. By connecting these two aspects we are able to improve public health through a multidisciplinary approach (Campbell 2011). Albeit, many people don’t consider its contribution to be large because the ethnographic research approach only focuses on observing and interviewing small groups of people. In reality we can gain much from this way of thinking in regard to medicine and culture (Campbell 2011). For maternal mortality rates in Yemen this way of thinking can help us focus in on what is really causing the problem and what we could be doing differently. Therefore, it is important to continue to critically evaluate health issues, especially maternal mortality rates in Yemen with this approach.
To conclude, for my final project I investigated how the inequalities in culture, specifically, in political, economic, and social power for women have led to higher maternal mortality rates in the country of Yemen. I used the critical medical anthropological theory because it takes a multidisciplinary approach to the issue focusing on both culture and medical aspects of the health issue. Equally important, I discussed how Yemen’s history, their culture before the war, and their culture after the war, in order to delve into how the maternal mortality rates were created and have been reinforced as well as increased. The cause came from the critical medical theories examination and also contributed an idea on how to start fixing the problem. When Yemen was first formed as a society, they had little inequality when it came to men and women, they each had a place and were on the same level. Then, once Islam became introduced men took advantage of the interpretation and gained power and control over women, while suppressing them. This eventually led them into a war that they started and left women without rights or power of any sort. The lack of attention the health issue of maternal mortality rates has been given by men in power has increased the rates and caused women more suffering. By identifying this, hopefully women will be able to gain their rights back and fend for themselves because the men clearly can’t do it for them. That being said, I hope this perspective is taken more seriously because I think the women in Yemen have much to gain from it. I believe the men do too, they are just too blinded by their power and control over the women. If they were to realize they could probably stop the war, decrease the rates and everyone’s overall well-being.
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