Somaliland: Addressing Maternal Mortality


A young mother at Edna University Hospital in Somaliland

By: Brooke Shelby Biggs

Half the Sky:

In many developing countries, pregnancy may as well be considered a death sentence. With the premiere of Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide just a week away, we felt it was the perfect time to provide a primer of sorts on the various issues highlighted in this special two-night broadcast event. Throughout this next week, Independent Lens will delve into issues ranging from economic empowerment to inter-generational prostitution, linking many of the problems women face today with the solutions outlined in Half the Sky.

Imagine a world where women are treated as second-class citizens, a world where becoming pregnant is dangerous because women have a 1 in 12 chance of dying from giving birth.

No imagination is required in Somaliland, where problems like these are a reality for many women.

Severe bleeding, infections, eclampsia, and obstructed labor are some of the leading causes of maternal deaths in developing

countries. All of these symptoms are increasingly likely with women who have received Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). Considered a common traditional practice for many cultures in Somaliland (as well as many areas in the western, eastern, and north-eastern regions of Africa), FGM is commonly performed on girls before they reach puberty. FGM is also performed on women before marriage or during their first pregnancy.

It is estimated that between 100 million and 140 million girls and women worldwide have been subjected to FGC (Female Genital Circumcision). There are more than 3 million girls at risk of forced FGC each year.

Edna Adan, founder of Edna Adan University Hospital in Somaliland, is a women’s health advocate who is against FGM. Known as the Mother Teresa of Somaliland, Edna is a woman who has experienced FGM firsthand. As a midwife and nurse, she has witnessed the pain and damaging effects FGM has caused many of her patients.

In order to raise awareness concerning the health problems that endanger women and children, Edna built University Hospital. By donating her UN pension and other personal assets, Edna has been able to fulfill her goal of building a place that not only takes care of women but also educates them.

In the documentary, Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, author Nicholas Kristof asks a traditional female circumciser the reason why FGM is practiced. According to the circumciser, the tradition is kept in order to maintain the chastity of girls, lower their sexual drive, and keep them under control.

In Half the Sky, Edna Adan says, “Female circumcision is not an Islamic religious obligation. It’s traditional. Our religion Islam does not require it.”

FGM is a growing concern that is affecting the female population across the globe, particularly in countries where an education is difficult to obtain.

Many of the families who keep the FGM tradition alive are not educated. Most of the time, they are unaware of the risks and dangers that come with FGM. By educating individuals about FGM, the decisions they make in their own families and in surrounding communities can change the way women are treated.

To learn more about the FGM practices in Somaliland and other issues that impact maternal mortality, tune in to Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide. This two-night broadcast special will premiere on Independent Lens on PBS on October 1 and 2, 2012.