Birthing kits for Afghanistan

August 9, 2009

On July 28, Castlemaine members of the Support Association for the Women of Afghanistan (SAWA) organised a birthing kit assembly day at the local hospital.

Rotary and the Birthing Kit Foundation of Australia — an affiliate of Zonta International, an organisation committed to advancing the status of women worldwide — supported the event.

On the day, about a dozen women volunteers attended and packed 1000 kits for delivery to Afghanistan. Each kit contains a one-metre square sterile plastic sheet, a bar of soap, a pair of plastic gloves, sterile gauze, cords and a scalpel blade.

That such simple kits are desperately needed is an indication of the plight of birthing mothers and their babies in "modern" Afghanistan.

Zonta distributes 400,000 kits across the developing world a year, but 400 million are needed. The mortality rate for Afghan women is 6500/100,000, far higher than Australia.

Male doctors are not allowed to be present at births and there are very few female doctors or well-trained midwives. Given the existing Afghanistan government's misogynist attitude, this situation is unlikely to change in the near future.

The level of change required explains the word "Revolutionary" in the acronym RAWA (Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan).

The Castlemaine SAWA group has hosted several speakers from RAWA. On June 6, SAWA hosted Shazia, a courageous young Afghan woman forced now to live in exile in Pakistan.

She repeatedly made the point that until a progressive democratic government replaced the Taliban, the Mujahideen drug/warlords and the Western military, Afghan women would never obtain justice. She agreed that the Australian soldiers' presence in Afghanistan was part of the problem, not part of the solution.

Local Afghan refugee Jarmil Hashimi supported Shazia's comments. Hashimi was forced to flee his homeland because of his support for women's rights.

If the heroism of young women like Shazia and her comrades is to be worthwhile, the waste of resources consumed by the Australian military intervention in Afghanistan should be redirected to expanding health and education programs pioneered by RAWA.

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