The Common Good

Nicholas Kristof

Bringing Fistula into the Light: International Day to End Obstetric Fistula

“An obstetric fistula,” I said, standing in the pulpit of my 200-year old church, “is a hole between a woman’s vagina and her bowel, or between her vagina and her bladder.”

The congregation’s discomfort was palpable. Later someone told me that they couldn’t believe that I’d had the nerve to say the “v-word” twice!  It wasn’t exactly the effect I’d hoped to have, but it wasn’t entirely surprising.

Fistula is a childbirth injury that’s unknown today in the developed West, though before the advent of modern maternity care, it affected women — especially poor women — in America as well as Europe. It was likely the reason, at least in some cases, for a woman being euphemistically spoken or written of as an ‘invalid,’ or as having been ‘invalided’ by the birth of a child. Fistula’s story has always been one of (usually secret) suffering; even the surgery to repair the injury, developed by American gynecologist J. Marion Sims in 1840s Alabama, was performed experimentally upon slaves that Sims purchased for the express purpose of perfecting his technique before turning to white patients.

It’s women of color who still all but exclusively suffer fistula’s life-destroying effects.

Fistula happens when a baby gets stuck while being born, often because a girl is either underage, has a pelvic deformity, or has had her genitals deformed by female genital cutting — and there’s no trained person to help. She’ll labor for days without success. Only after the baby is dead and partially softened does it slip out from the exhausted mother, whose suffering has only begun. Days of pressure from the baby’s head have killed blood vessels in her vaginal tissues, which now decay, leaving a hole — or holes — from which urine and feces leak. She has become incontinent. Her husband divorces her. Her family makes her leave the house because of her stench. She can’t even keep herself clean enough, because the water she walks some distance to collect each day is just enough for basic use. The village children mock her for her stench; her neighbors ignore her.

Her story is multiplied between 50,000 to 100,000 times each year.

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On Scripture: How Long Does Darkness Last?

For the sake of the world, we should all be feminists. And given what we know about the role of independent, empowered women in the community of disciples, for the sake world, we might be “Christians.”

Raymond Brown, the late, great scholar of John, writes: “In this Gospel, where light and darkness play such a role, darkness lasts until someone believes in the risen Jesus.”  

Therefore no darkness, no heartbreak, no grief, no injustice can long stand where the Risen Christ is proclaimed. Jesus Christ is the light of the world.  The light shines in the darknessa and the darkness does not — cannot — will not overcome the light. 

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Female Slavery in Our Own Back Yards

[caption id="attachment_34028" align="alignleft" width="214" caption="Detail of a sculpture at the site of a former slave market, Christ Church, Zanzibar. By Cathleen Falsani."][/caption]

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Sudan: History Must Not Repeat Itself

We cannot allow the history of a brutal genocide to repeat itself in Sudan, nor denial and inaction to repeat itself in Washington, D.C., but both are happening at this very moment

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Friday Links Round Up: The Day of Departure. Mubarak. Egypt.

Here's a little round up of links from around the Web you may have missed this week:
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Friday Links Round Up: Rosa Parks. Football Injuries. Egypt.

Rosa Parks. Football Injuries. Egypt. Here's a little round up of links from around the Web you may have missed this week:
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Egypt Coverage Round Up II

The situation in Egypt continues to stun the world. Today we heard reports of attacks on journalists and human rights workers. In an interview with ABC's Christiane Amanpour, Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak declared, "I would never run away.
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Call on Obama: Tell Mubarak to Leave Now

By all journalistic reports, it was the Egyptian government of President Hosni Mubarak that sent thousands of armed thugs into Tahrir Square and the streets of Cairo yesterday to bring violence to w
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Egypt Coverage Round Up

There's been a lot of fascinating coverage of the protest in Egypt today. Here's a round up of links and videos you may have missed:
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Friday Links Round Up: DREAM Act. Films of 2010. Winter.

Here's a little round up of links from around the Web you may have missed this week:
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