By James Nardella, executive director of the Lwala Community Alliance
June 15, 2016 | Charisma Magazine
As a nonprofit leader, I have dedicated much of my working life to bringing health care to rural populations of mothers and infants in East Africa. Through years of proximity to rural families, I have learned some of the challenges women face in remote locations.
As a male, I now better understand that the barriers to maternal and child health care are not only resource barriers or technical barriers, but also moral and gender barriers.
So long as girls as young as 13 are taken by men as brides, so long as school girls are coerced by men into unwanted sex, so long as women are legally treated by men as property and valued only for their child-bearing, and so long as male dominant practices such as polygamy, wife inheritance and female genital mutilation exist, then our efforts to care for women and children must morally and culturally persuade men, not just financially and technically support women.
In these cultural and moral realms, the church has the power to influence men as family decision makers and as difference makers between life and death for the women and children in their village communities.
Let me put this in real terms through the story of a young mother I know in Kenya named Vivian. Vivian grew up in a small rural village near Lake Victoria. Like many girls, she was unable to complete high school due to an unexpected pregnancy. At 17, she became the wife of a man named Richard, who was six years older. By the time Vivian was 19, she had a second child, and the family was surviving through subsistence farming.
One day in 2011, Vivian and her family plowed their field with the help of a neighbor's bull. That evening, as Vivian was leading the bull back to its owner, the animal charged her from behind and caught her with his horns, throwing her into the air. As she was gored a second and third time, she screamed, and the neighbors came to her rescue, somehow managing to distract the bull and pull him away. The bull had badly wounded Vivian in the genital region, and she was rushed to the hospital on the back of a motorbike.
James Nardella is a parent, husband, and global health advocate. He was the long time executive director of the Lwala Community Alliance, a health and community development agency in Western Kenya. He now serves as a Principal at the Skoll Foundation. He is a contributor to the recently released Mother and Child Project: Raising our Voices for Health and Hope, a compilation from Zondervan Publishing on global maternal and child health issues, from which this piece was taken.
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Photo: Because of the culture, sadly women in Kenya are sometimes treated as objects. (Flickr )