We Are the First Doctors Here At Home, Women’s Perspective on Sanitary Conditions in Mozambique pp. 41-73
Authors: (Maja Söderbäck, Malin Udén, School of Health, Care and Social Welfare, Mälardalen University, Sweden)
Abstract: Lack of sanitation is an important public health issue in low-income countries. Globally, the lack of sanitation affects some 2.8 billion people, mainly the poor, women and children. The people affected are deprived of their dignity and at risk for several severe diarrheal diseases. However, improvements are often hindered by the fact that human excrement is a sensitive issue, and feasible solutions fail to consider cultural and gender issues. With this background, this chapter focuses on women’s sanitary conditions in a rural African village (Mozambique). An ethnographic approach was used to investigate the everyday sanitary conditions, understood through a theoretical framework of equity in health, and gender was used for understanding. During a two-month stay in the village, women in three households were followed and observed in their everyday work to explore the sanitary prerequisites. Furthermore, official and traditional leaders in the village were interviewed about their perceptions of the women’s sanitary situation. The findings show that every woman and her family members are obligated to deal with their human waste on an individual basis, creating solutions mostly from what could be obtained free within the confinements of their yard. This unhygienic situation rendered the women fearful of disease and accidents, especially for their children, resulting in both psychological and physiological discomfort. Maintaining sanitation was female work. However, only men were allowed to build new latrines, causing difficulties for the many women without husbands. Several positive forces also existed: openness, interest, knowledge and an already existing net of community development. Improvements are instead held back by poverty and gender disparities, depriving women of control over their own home and health.
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