An investigation of the relationship between autonomy, childbirth practices, and obstetric fistula among women in rural Lilongwe District, Malawi
Kaplan, Julika A
Beckham, John M
Abstract Background Obstetric fistula is a childbirth injury caused by prolonged obstructed labor that results in destruction of the tissue wall between the vagina and bladder. Although obstetric fistula is directly caused by prolonged obstructed labor, many other factors indirectly increase fistula risk. Some research suggests that many women in rural Malawi have limited autonomy and decision-making power in their households. We hypothesize that women’s limited autonomy may play a role in reinforcing childbirth practices that increase the risk of obstetric fistula in this setting by hindering access to emergency care and further prolonging obstructed labor. Methods A medical student at Baylor College of Medicine partnered with a Malawian research assistant in July 2015 to conduct in-depth qualitative interviews in Chichewa with 25 women living within the McGuire Wellness Centre’s catchment area (rural Central Lilongwe District) who had received obstetric fistula repair surgery. Results This study assessed whether women’s limited autonomy in rural Malawi reinforces childbearing practices that increase risk of obstetric fistula. We considered four dimensions of autonomy: sexual and reproductive decision-making, decision-making related to healthcare utilization, freedom of movement, and discretion over earned income. We found that participants had limited autonomy in these domains. For example, many women felt pressured by their husbands, families, and communities to become pregnant within three months of marriage; women often needed to seek permission from their husbands before leaving their homes to visit the clinic; and women were frequently prevented from delivering at the hospital by older women in the community. Conclusions Many of the obstetric fistula patients in our sample had limited autonomy in several or all of the aforementioned domains, and their limited autonomy often led both directly and indirectly to an increased risk of prolonged labor and fistula. Reducing the prevalence of fistula in Malawi requires a broad understanding of the causes of fistula, so we recommend that the relationship between women’s autonomy and fistula risk undergo further investigation.
Citable link to this pagehttp://hdl.handle.net/1911/95184
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