The Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital has been on the edge of my consciousness for some years on and off, especially when it receives media attention. I noticed it a little more when I joined the birth world and a little more again as I realised that a high profile and well respected doula had become the CEO of Hamlin Fistula Australia so when I was given the opportunity to attend a charity screening of "A Walk to Beautiful" I jumped at the chance.
Obstetric fistula is a complication of long and obstructed labours and it causes incontinence (urinary and sometimes fecal) in affected women. These women are unable to work or socialise and become completely isolated by their condition. They are commonly shunned, often rejected by their husbands and sometimes feel that death would be easier than life with a fistula.
The obvious cause of fistula is the enormous difficulty the villagers of Ethiopia have in accessing medical care: many villages are many hours walk from any road and even further to reliable medical help. The documentary makes it clear that the women of Ethiopia are not only victims of poor infrastructure but of cultural norms. Early marriage and childbearing means that mothers are often little more than girls and are physically too underdeveloped to birth safely. Complicating things further, Ethiopian girls and women work very hard, carrying firewood and water from a very young age and although their diets are of good quality they don't receive the calories needed for growth so many are extremely small even when they are physically mature.
The film demonstrates the scale of an almost insurmountable problem but it also showcases the life changing, life restoring work of the hospital as well as the courage and tenacity of some remarkable women.
Fistula became rare in the developed world a full 120 years ago, the first ever fistula hospital closed in New York almost 90 years ago but it is still a major problem in Africa and in other impoverished parts of the world. The film freshened my resolve to be grateful for the privileged life I was born into, to "pay it forward" and to continue teaching my children, especially my daughters, that in no way has feminism finished it's job or become outdated, that in fact, we have only just begun.
As one critic wrote
"A Walk to Beautiful will leave you speechless two times over — first with despair, then with joy. Neither unmentionable subject matter nor nonexistent commercial prospects can keep this documentary from having a power over your heart that is unparalleled"