Speaking of Health Care

Mother Land Afghanistan, a film by documentary filmmaker Sedika Mojadidi, Dr. Mojadidi’s daughter, chronicles his trials at Rabia Balkhi hospital and the Laura Bush OBGYN Ward as well as the current state of women’s health care in Afghanistan. The film looks critically at the superstitions that still prevail in rural Afghanistan, negatively impacting the health options of the country. It points to medical knowledge that is also missing from the country but readily abundant in the U.S. like how to repair fistulas (holes in the bladder, resulting in a constant stream of urine). 100,000 women in Afghanistan have fistulas. It also shows the stark contrast between U.S. funded & run hospitals for Afghan women and Afghan NGO run hospitals for women.

Though many mainstream feminists waved the nationalist banner in the name of “saving women” when the U.S. invaded Afghanistan, few have really followed up on the consequences for women in either Iraq or Afghanistan. Even fewer have apologized for calling the war effort a feminist issue. As Dr. Mojadidi points out in the film, “If the U.S. wanted to save women in Afghanistan, they could have come sooner.” To drive the point home, Sedika shows us the places where her family used to live, completely destroyed by Russian sympathizers when Russia occupied Afghanistan and the voice over tells us that most of her family, including women and children were tortured and killed.

In Kabul, Afghanistan the women’s clinic is named after Laura Bush. It is one of the signs that the “war on terror” really was about saving “the poor oppressed third world middle eastern women.”

The Laura Bush clinic and midwife training program exemplifies the globalization of medical inequity from current U.S. foreign policy (as opposed to the myriad of inequities we could talk about with big pharma testing their drugs on “third world” women to ensure their safety for the N. American, Canadian, and British consumer). Conditions in the hospital are unsanitary. The toilets do not flush. Water in the wash basins and the toilets back up regularly, leading to stagnate, contaminated, pools of water in areas that are supposed to be used for sterilization. Worse, patients have to buy their own medical supplies at local area pharmacies because the hospital has none; there is no gauze, no sutures, no needles, no bandages, nothing.

In keeping with long standing tradition of U.S. occupation, doctors and nurses from Afghanistan are viewed as inferior to the U.S. imports and U.S. policy actively encourages them to be segregated. In a poll of doctors, nurses, and students at Laura Bush hospital, all reported that no U.S. doctors or nurses asked them what they needed to do their work. Like most aid to “those poor women over there” or “those poor Katrina people” right here, gross inequities were embedded in the same from the beginning based not only on a pathologizing of the people in question but also the supremacist assumption that white N. Americans know better than the people themselves what they do or do not need.

During the 4 months that Dr. Mojadidi, an Afghan born immigrant to the U.S., worked at Laura Bush hospital no supplies were delivered. In response to his repeated pleas for supplies, more collaboration, and more staff for the teaching hospital, he received a letter of praise from the U.S. State Department and the promise that “the president is reading your letters and celebrating your progress.” Despite its faults, if you happened to see HBOs Wounded Knee, you will recognize this tactic as a longstanding one from the inception of the N. American nation.

Dr. Mojadidi quit. Shortly after, the midwife training program was cut from the Laura Bush hospital program.

The film also takes us to orphanages, many of which are supported by NGOs and international relief agencies dating back to 1989, which are the location of some powerful Afghan feminism. (Sorry there are no clips to show you on youtube.) Though the narrative never says as much, it is safe to assume that many of the orphaned children and the homeless widows that live there are internally displaced survivors of the war.

When the Mojadidis arrive at the orphanage, the children sing a song asking God why he has allowed their mothers to die and be buried by the sand. The message is clear, Afghanistan is a staging zone for wars between superpowers – between the U.S. and Russia during the cold war & between the U.S. and the Middle East during the “perpetual war on terrorism.” Children lose their parents. The women we are supposedly saving, lose their husbands and their homes.

Afghanistan absorbs as many of these intentionally lost souls in orphanages where the women act as surrogate mothers and teachers, and the children go to school. These orphanages are also Afghanistan’s answer to domestic and sexual violence, as some of the homeless women insinuate they are their for safety.

Feminist theory is fairly clear on this, wars make women less safe – they open a space for sexual exploitation, physical and mental abuse, and increased poverty and health disparity. Yet, not only was feminism mobilized to justify this war but the orphanages are built by Afghans.

Once again, the failure to first envision the needs of the people in the face of crisis and then to consult them on how to repair the aftermath has led us all down the slippery slope of oppressing the most marginalized among us.

Mother Land Afghanistan is now out on DVD. It is a short film, largely in English. I encourage you to view it. If you are teaching, maybe you can fit it in to your classes. September 11 is just a few weeks away and the war machine has already turned its sights on Iran.

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