by Renee Dolney
Each year, 540,000 women in the developing world die while pregnant or
giving birth. For every woman who dies while giving birth, another 20
survive, but struggle with crippling injuries. One of the most common and
devastating is a condition known as obstetric fistula.
Obstetric fistula occurs when prolonged labor causes a rupture between the
birth canal and either the rectum or the bladder, or both. It leaves a
woman incontinent, isolated and ashamed. Obstetric fistulas virtually
disappeared in the United States with the advent of the c-section in the
late 19th Century. It is easily preventable with access to emergency
obstetric care. It is also inexpensive to repair: the average surgery
costs about $300, and success rates run about 90%. The U.N. estimates
that over 2 million women world-wide are currently suffering from
We as human beings are deeply moved by these facts, but why should we as
environmentalists care? Because when a woman’s voice and health are
valued, she is better able to advocate on her own behalf for access to
education about reproductive health and family planning and for the
protection of the natural resources essential to her children’s survival.
The Sierra Club has partnered with One by One, a nonprofit organization
committed to ending fistula, to form the Green-Pink Alliance. The
Green-Pink Alliance recognizes that environmental progress is inextricably
linked to the status of women in the developing world. Advancing
sustainable development policies, alleviating the worst of poverty, and
supporting the trend toward slower population growth cannot happen without
interventions directed at those most affected by and most able to affect
environmental degradation and poverty at the local level: women.
Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) has introduced legislation to set
aside federal monies solely to prevent and treat obstetric fistulas. H.R.
2114 is a non-partisan bill that avoids the controversies surrounding
other family planning funding by only allocating monies for the prevention
and treatment of obstetric fistula. Unfortunately, not a single
Pennsylvania Congressperson has signed on as a co-sponsor.
If you would like to get involved in the effort to fight obstetric
fistulas, and to help women in the developing world, please contact Renee
Dolney at email@example.com, or 412-901-1614.