Widespread women’s rights violations are partly to blame for high maternal mortality rates in Afghan women, according to a study appearing in the September 11 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association. Researchers from Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Physicians for Human Rights interviewed 4,886 women from the northwestern Afghan province of Herat. They estimated that 593 out of 100,000 Herati women die during pregnancy or childbirth. Countrywide, Afghan maternal mortality rates are the second highest in the world (Sierra Leone is highest) with 1,700 deaths out of 100,000 Afghan pregnancies compared to 12 out of 100,000 in the US.
Study Author Dr. Lynn Amowitz explained that trained professionals and medical facilities and supplies are scarce, plus many roads are inaccessible in the war-ravaged nation. In Herat, 35 physicians serve a population of 793,214. No hospitals exist in 20 of Afghanistan’s 31 provinces. Amowitz also cited the lack of women’s rights in hindering women’s access to medical care and family planning. In some cases, husbands force their wives to deliver in their own homes, because the culture considers treatment by strangers in public places “shameful.” “What appears to be simply a public health catastrophe in Herat Province also speaks to the many years of denial and deprivation of women’s rights in Afghanistan,” Amowitz said in a statement.
In addition, the study also noted that 80 percent of the women interviewed considered sex with their husbands obligatory. Nearly half said that a husband had the right to physically abuse his wife for disobedience.