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Northern Women Face Divorce, Trauma For Receiving Treatment From Male Doctors

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If it were not for the timely intervention of the elderly Islamic cleric at Kizara Village in Tsafe Local Government Area of Zamfara State, Garba Umar would have ended his 15-year-old marriage to his wife, Halima.

 

Her offence was allowing a male doctor attend to her in the labour room.

 

Saturday PUNCH learnt that when efforts by other women in the compound failed to help when she went into labour, she was rushed to the Tsafe General Hospital following noticeable complications that often accompany childbirth.

 

On getting to the hospital, there were no female doctors or nurses on the ground to attend to her. Thus, they were constrained to allow a male doctor on duty attend to her, at which time her health seemed to be failing.

 

Reluctant to embrace the option, the women said they had no choice but to allow the doctor (names withheld for security reasons) attend to her.

 

After three days of being in a coma, Halima survived, but she lost the baby. However, her family and friends were consoled that she made it out alive.

 

But unknown to the distraught mother, the consequences of allowing a male doctor attend to her awaited her at home. Her husband, it was learnt, had become livid, hurled insults at her and even threatened a divorce for allowing a male doctor to attend to her.

 

Those privy to the drama said Halima was on her way out of the marriage, but for the swift intervention of the cleric, who counselled and cautioned her husband against such a move.

 

“The cleric told him it wasn’t prohibitive in Islam for a male doctor to attend to a female patient in the absence of female medical personnel,” one of the witnesses told Saturday PUNCH.

 

Sadly, such an experience is not new, neither is it exclusive to Halima.

 

The same fate befell Hafsat, a resident of Talata Mafara in Zamfara State, in which case her husband warned that on no account should she seek medical attention from a male doctor in his absence, no matter the gravity of the ailment.

 

The vicissitudes of life would, however, compel Hafsat to flout the instruction. Like Hafisat, she was delivered of a baby girl by a male doctor when the husband was unavailable. It took the intervention of family and friends that the marriage didn’t end in a divorce.

 

 

Double loss for Mukhtar

 

Unlike Halima and Hafsat, who were both lucky to have their marriages intact despite flouting the ‘golden rule’ set by their husbands, a 14-year-old mother in Zango Local Government Area of Katsina State, Aminat Mukhtar, wasn’t as lucky. Hers ended in a divorce despite aborting her education because of the marriage.

 

She said her husband divorced her for allowing a male doctor attend to her when she had complications during childbirth. Sadly, she had a stillbirth. Thus, she lost the baby and her marriage.

 

Mukhtar, who was a JSS 3 student at a government secondary school in 2022, said she was out of school for a year due to the development, noting that her suitor pressured her for the marriage, a situation that made her drop out of school for one year before the outcome of the short-lived marriage compelled her to return to school.

 

According to her, the school principal, Fatima Muhammed, was impressed with her courage and allowed her to return to the school. However, she could only return to JSS 3 instead of SS1 as her former classmates were already ahead of her academically.

 

Mukhtar revealed that her ambition in life was to become a school teacher.

 

She told one of our correspondents in an interview, “I am 14 years old and the eldest in my family. We are three in the family. The other two are a boy and a girl. I am in JSS3.

 

“‘I was initially attending school here (Government Girls Secondary School, Baure) when I met a man who said he wanted to marry me. He promised me several things and lured me to drop out of school. After I left school, I kept on seeing my schoolmates, and they told me that some programmes were being implemented at the school to assist students who were from poor homes like me. I made inquiries and confirmed that it was true.

 

“I subsequently called off the marriage proposal, and I returned to the school. Our school principal assisted me a lot, and up till now, she keeps on encouraging me. I have no regrets for my decision to return to school. My ambition is to become a schoolteacher and contribute to the development of my community.”

 

As heartbreaking as these are, such cases are prevalent in some northern states like Katsina, Kano, Sokoto, Bauchi, Zamfara, Kebbi, Jigawa, and others.

 

In some of the states, male doctors are reluctant to attend to female patients, especially in public hospitals, without their husbands present, for their own safety or the possible consequences for the woman.

 

A staff nurse at the Federal Medical Centre, Gusau, Zamfara State, Mohammed Sani, who spoke to Saturday PUNCH said male doctors had stopped attending to female patients, except with the permission of the husband or the guardian, as the case might be.

 

Sani told one of our correspondents that over the years, there had been marital quarrels, which often led to separation or outright divorce over the issue of male doctors attending to female patients, especially pregnant women.

 

He stated, “We (male medical personnel) are no longer attending to pregnant women in labour unless we get the written agreement from their husbands or relations. There are so many incidents where pregnant women who are in labour were attended to by male doctors and the issue became unpleasant in the end.

 

“You know that we have shortage of female doctors, as such, male doctors must be assigned to attend to female patients, especially those in labour.”

 

On the religious implication, a renowned Islamic scholar, Sheikh Liman Musa-Kura, told Saturday PUNCH that in Islam, male doctors are not allowed to see the anatomy of a married woman except with the consent of her husband or blood relatives.

 

Kura warned that male doctors should stay off from attending to a woman during labour unless it became absolutely necessary.

 

The cleric stressed that in the absence of female medical personnel, it was only if the female patient was in grave danger that a male doctor could be called upon to save her life.

 

Musa-Kura stated, “In Islam, everything is fully explained. It is forbidden for a man to see a female private parts if he is neither her husband nor her blood relation.

 

“So, in case there is no female doctor around, a male doctor could be assigned to treat a woman in the presence of either her husband or her relatives.”

 

Meanwhile, Kura lamented the shortage of female doctors in the state, urging the authorities to do something in order to avert the “ugly trend”. He cited the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia “where only female health personnel can treat their fellow women.”

 

Interestingly, the opinion of the District Head of Gagi community in Sokoto State, Alhaji Sani Umar Jabbi, was different.

 

According to him, it was unconstitutional to ask housewives not to seek medical attention from male medical doctors, adding that it had nothing to do with religion.

 

He described as “heartless” the attitude of some men in the northern part of the country, who punish their wives or deny them the right to seek medical attention from the hospital because they do not want them to be attended to by male doctors.

 

As a way out, the monarch called for more protection for women, especially housewives whom he said deserved the same protection as the men in the society.

 

He stressed the need to invest in girl-child education, noting that “the consequence of not investing in girl-child education by our people in this part of the country is what causes men to dominate every strategic part, including the health sector.”

 

Umar Jabbi noted, “The problem with our men in the North is that they have conservative mindset for not supporting women’s education, and unless we provide the opportunity for girl-child education and their empowerment, we will continue to have a gap.

 

“We must henceforth realise that education of the female children too is part of human rights and should be given priority. The issue of health care is also a guaranteed right of everyone, irrespective of their gender or status.

 

“I pray we change our perspectives so that in future we can have more human resources to take care of those areas, such as nurses, doctors, gynaecologists, among others, so as to meet our demands.”

 

Indeed, like Umar Jabbi noted, while it is inexcusable for men to deprive their wives of medical care because of the absence of female doctors and nurses, the menace also highlights the consequences of depriving female children of education, a danger more common in northern Nigeria.

 

According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation in 2022, Nigeria had about 20 million out-of-school children, especially those aged between six and 18. Even though the Universal Basic Education Commission believed the real figure was about 10 million, Nigeria is said to have one of the highest figure in the world.

 

According to UBEC, the out-of-school children mainly comprise of the girl-child in northern Nigeria, boy-child in the South-South and South-East geopolitical zones, internally-displaced children, and the Almajiri Qur’anic and itinerant children “who are predominantly found in Northern Nigeria”.

 

The Department of Special Programmes at UBEC was however mandated to coordinate and implement all special interventions to address the out-of-school children challenge.

 

Equally contributory to the travails of the girl child, especially in northern Nigeria, is the issue of child marriage. The United Nations Population Fund revealed late last year that no fewer than 20,000 girls were saved from child marriage.

 

The United Nations Children’s Fund also revealed in a 2021 report that 40 per cent of girls in the country were married before they clocked 18 years. The report said the act of forcing girls into marriage with creditors to offset a loan contributed to the rate of child marriage.

 

Also emphasising the importance of girl-child education, the Country Representative of UNFPA, Ms Ulla Mueller, said in 2022 at an event, “Education is crucial in realising the potential of women and children. As such, we must ensure that every girl has access to quality education that equips her with knowledge and skills.

 

“Quality education will also enable girls to have the confidence to pursue their ambitions. When women have equal access to education, they are better able to enhance their own lives and contribute to the growth of their communities. Achieving gender equality is not only essential for its social and economic benefits but also because it is the right thing to do.”

 

Thus, like Jabbi noted, there cannot be female doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals to treat pregnant women, much to the desire of some men in northern Nigeria, when the girl-child is deprived of education.

 

The poor access to healthcare underscores Nigeria’s high rate of maternal mortality, which is said to be the second-highest in the world. India is said to have the highest. A report by the World Health Organisation revealed that in 2020 alone, 540 women and children died per thousand in Nigeria, while the country accounted for 12 per cent of global maternal and neonatal deaths and stillbirths in the world.

 

 

Findings revealed that apart from the low access to proper healthcare, practices like this deprive women of the medical care that could have saved their lives.

 

Narrating his subjects’ ordeal, the community leader narrated, “Sometimes here in Sokoto, there was this housewife who was about to go into labour and her mother-in-law prevented her from visiting the hospital.

 

“We did all kinds of advocacy, but the woman refused to allow her go to the hospital. We later took the expectant mother to the hospital after being in labour for about three weeks. After her delivery, unfortunately she needed blood transfusion and the same woman placed a curse on her son if he donated blood to his wife.

 

“It took several interventions, and it was not until we told her that if she (the pregnant woman) died, she would be held responsible before she allowed her son to donate blood to the wife. We have so many stories related to this but the most important thing is to continue to create awareness to our people on the importance of education to our girl-child.”

 

On the religious beliefs attached to this, the community leader noted that ignorance and not religion was responsible for the belief that only a female doctor should attend to women in need of medical attention.

 

He stated, “It is unfortunate that some ignorant persons among our people link their actions to teachings of Islam, which is a lie. Allah never told us to deny our wives what can make them happy or well.

 

“The ultimate goal of religion is to save lives. Every aspect of human endeavour is there in the Holy Quran, even that of women, from delivery up to adulthood, and how they should be treated. You cannot deny women the right to quality health. It is there in the Holy Quran. People should ask what they don’t know.”


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