Malika

We were introduced to Malika while working with UNFPA/UNICEF on a collaborative film project focused on ending the practice of FGM (Female Genital Mutilation). Malika, featured in our film True Story. Malika had experienced one of the worst forms of FGM – infibulation. Infibulation involves the removal of the clitoris, the labia minor, and parts of the labia majora, which are then pulled together with thorns and thread, leaving a small vaginal opening that must serve to pass urine and menstrual fluid.

Malika's home

Malika's home

We met Malika in her debora (a style of housing in Afar, Ethiopia). The interior of her dwelling was in total darkness due to the coverage of straw matting. We asked Malika for her permission to remove some of the straw matting so that we might see her and her baby and to bring some light into the home.

As the light filtered through the straw matting, we saw Malika lying prostrate on a mat, while her mother, using her own breast as a dummy, comforted Malika’s baby daughter.

Malika's mother comforts her granddaughter  

Malika's mother comforts her granddaughter  

Due to Malika being infibulated, the injuries she suffered on her wedding night were extreme. When she became pregnant, she had little or no antenatal care. Had Malika received antenatal care she would have learned that due to her being infibulated she had a high risk of facing an obstructed labor and birth and would have been recommended to give birth with a midwife at a health centre.

Malika delivered in her hut with a traditional birth attendant. Her prolonged and obstructed labour led to an anal and vaginal obstetric fistula, leaving her constantly leaking feces and urine. She was fortunate that her daughter survived.

Malika with her baby daughter

Malika with her baby daughter

More than 75% of women and young girls with obstetric fistula have endured labor that lasted three days or more. Often, women with fistula injuries are rejected by their husbands and community, due to their foul smell and incontinence. Unfortunately, this is precisely what happened in Malika’s case.

Confined to her small house, unable to move properly due to her condition, she lay on her mat day after day, until her muscles atrophied. She now has trouble walking, and uses straps placed in her home to lift herself up to attend to her daughter.

Malika told us that she considers herself a “dead woman” and that she would never contemplate circumcising her daughter after what she experienced.

Upon hearing Malika’s story, we asked our translator and local health worker if there was anything that could be done to help Malika’s situation. The health worker said she might be able to speak with the local clan leader, Ware Musa.

The same day, our health worker was able to speak to Ware Musa, who said he had heard of Malika and knew it was a very serious case. The health worker explained that although her injuries were severe, she could be taken to a Hamlin Fistula Hospital in Addis Ababa for assessment and surgery that would change her life.

The next morning, we were working at the local health centre, and were overjoyed to see Ware Musa there, who had brought in Malika, her baby and her mother to be assessed and hopefully begin the long journey to Addis Ababa. It was heart warming to see patients and staff at this rural health centre passing a tin donation cup around and hearing the clink of coins in aid of helping Malika with the cost of her journey ahead.

We would like to visit Malika the next time we are in the Afar region, but until then, we trust that Malika made it to Addis Ababa and received the life changing surgery that would give her back her dignity.

Malika

Malika

Wube-Enat and Abebe's Story

In 2008, in the Amhara Region of NW Ethiopia, we met Wube-Enat for the first time.  It was the eve of her wedding day. She was ten years old, and promised to Abebe, a fifteen-year-old young man. Abebe was studying to be a deacon in the Orthodox Christian Church, and he first saw Wube-Enat when he was out collecting alms. He decided that she would be his future wife. Abebe went home that evening, and asked his elders to arrange the marriage. 

Wube-Enat and Abebe on their wedding day

Wube-Enat and Abebe on their wedding day

The physical consequences of early marriage can be severe. Pregnancy before a girl’s body is fully formed can lead to a difficult and prolonged labor. If she survives, she could be left with permanent damage.

Our initial assumption upon meeting Wube-Enat was that she would become pregnant and due to her age and size, perhaps suffer one of the consequences of child marriage - an obstetric fistula.
 
However, true to what her father told us on the day of the marriage, this celebration was just a betrothal, a symbolic promise. Her father knew the law: that the legal age of marriage was 18 years. Wube-Enat would remain in school, and not reunite with Abebe until she was at least 15 years old.

Speaking to Wube-Enat’s father on the day of the marriage, he told us:

She is at school, and I have to consider the law. Both the fathers, his father and myself, we talked about their relationship. We believe they have to finish studying, and we decided not to let them have a relationship at this stage. The wedding is just a promise. It’s nothing. Now it’s happened. She is having her honeymoon here; he’s having his celebration at his place. They’re having a big ceremony for him. As for me, this is as far as I go. Tomorrow she has to go back to school. As far as the wedding goes, I’ve fulfilled my obligations.”  

Wube-Enat on her wedding day

Wube-Enat on her wedding day

Wube-Enat with her parents

Wube-Enat with her parents

In June 2012, we returned to the Amhara region. We were determined, if we could, to find the whereabouts of Wube-Enat and Abebe. Ambachew, our dedicated driver, drove our director Nancy to the approximate area where Abebe lived, stopping every few miles to ask people passing on the road if they recognized the couple in the photograph Nancy carried - Wube-Enat and Abebe. 

At our fourth stop, a man recognized Abebe and said to Nancy that if she could wait 45 minutes, he would bring Abebe to her. Find him he did, and Nancy and Abebe reunited along with his local friends.

Nancy, Abebe, and friends 

Nancy, Abebe, and friends 

Abebe told Nancy that he had visited Wube-Enat’s home on religious occasions but they had not spent time together as married couple as custom wouldn't permit this. Abebe confied to Nancy that he did he not feel that he could talk with Wube-Enat, as she was too shy. Nancy learned that the respective elders of both families had agreed that in a few months time, Wube-Enat and Abebe might come together.

In May 2013, Nancy was again working in this area and arrived unannounced at Abebe’s home. To her delight, she found that Wube-Enat had arrived two days earlier to visit Abebe! Wube-Enat was to stay for only 5 days, as she had to complete her grade 7 education. In a few months time, the elders of the families would meet to decide when it was appropriate for them to formally live together. 

Wube-Enat, 2016

Wube-Enat, 2016

Abebe and Wube-Enat, 2016

Abebe and Wube-Enat, 2016

In 2016, we visited again. This time we found that Wube-Enat and Abebe had been living together as husband and wife for the past nine months. Wube-Enat was a poised, confident young woman, in grade eight, who planned to continue her education until grade twelve - a major achievement for an Amhara woman.
 
Even more heartening was the news that Abebe had not only supported Wube-Enat’s education but was supporting her decision to take family planning.


Wube-Enat has been taking the Depo Provera injection every three months, ensuring that she has control over her reproductive future. 

Our film Child Marriage, featuring Wube-Enat’s story, was used in a campaign by the UNFPA, to educate Amhara women about their reproductive health care choices, and the impact of child marriage. 
 
Wube-Enat’s story is a perfect illustration of what education and access to healthcare can give to women. With education and family planning, she can space her children and educate them. The ripple effect will lead to more empowered Amhara women, and a stronger Ethiopia.

However, not all stories like Wube-Enat’s have such a lovely ending. Each year, 15 million girls are married before the age of 18. That is 28 girls every minute that are married too soon, endangering their personal development and well-being. With more young people on our planet than ever before, child marriage is a human rights violation that we must end to achieve a fairer future for all.

See our film detailing our reunion with Wube-Enat and Abebe here.  

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In SafeHands Photographic Book

We are thrilled to announce that the book In SafeHands by our director and photographer Nancy Durrell McKenna, will be launched November 28th, 2016. As well as celebrating the work of SafeHands for Mothers, the book is photographic tribute to the stories of extraordinary women and their families in rural Africa. 

Signed copies of the book are available for £45 plus postage and package. Email us to place an order.