Thursday, October 11, 2012


I suppose a word of caution is needed here, as this contains some pretty difficult and graphic material. Not for kids, I'd think. Although, sadly, it's pretty much about kids.

Last week was pretty heavy in the TV watching department when it came to thinking about women's rights and issues around the world. Not only did I end up watching Half the Sky, which is a four hour documentary about tackling women's issues around the globe, but somehow ended up keeping the television on and thus seeing  a Nova segment called A Walk to Beautiful, which was about a clinic in Ethiopia  where they treat the apparently enormous problem of obstetric fistulas in the country.

To cut to the chase a bit, many rural women in Ethiopia suffer devastating shame and ostracism because of a complication of giving birth which leaves them unable to hold their urine and in some cases their feces. The reasons have to do with heavy lifting and malnutrition in early childhood, early marriage and lack of prenatal care, to name but a few. The immediate cause however, is a fistula.

I have heard the word fistula before, but never really knew what it was. Due to the similar sound in English, I could never escape thinking of it as a little fist, but that idea didn't really serve me very well.

So, unless you've already gone on over to watch the documentary, which I highly recommend, shall we explore what a fistula is?

Oh, well--I can always do it on my own.


A fistula is a permanent abnormal passage between two hollow or tubular organs in the body, or between an organ and the body's surface. An obstetric fistula makes a passage between either the vagina and the bladder or the vagina and the rectum, or, in some really horrific cases, both.

Fistula doesn't have anything to do with the word fist, however, which probably goes back to an early root having to do with five.  In Latin, fistula means a pipe, reed, or even a flute. Tellingly, it also means ulcer, from which I suppose our present meaning derives. What lies beneath or behind that, no one seems to know.

Watch A Walk to Beautiful. These young women need all the empathy they can get.


  1. I'd really like to watch that. It seems to me that the only way for the world to change is to educate women and then get them in office. I really think all my charitable contributions should be to that end from now on. I know there are always the Michelle Bachman's of the world too, so not a guarantee, but still...these kind of attitudes towards women must change.

  2. If you get a chance to watch the Half the Sky documentary, it's pretty great. It doesn't downplay the appalling second class citizenship of so many women in the world, but it looks at it as the great agenda of change for this millennium.

    Not that it's all hunky-dory for women of the West, either, but at least there is some sort of legal recourse. My friend and professor Paul Lee said that homelessness is the moral test for the west, whcih I definitely see play out in this community. I do think that between these two things, the rights of the homeless and women's rights, we have our moral agenda cut out for us for the foreseeable future.