ALISON HELLER, then a student at Washington University, St. Louis, Missouri, was awarded a grant in October 2012 to aid research on 'After the Stitches: Negotiating Destigmatization Processes among Women with Fistula in Hausa Speaking Niger,' supervised by Dr. Shanti Parikh. Obstetric fistula, an injury sustained during childbirth which results in chronic incontinence, affects an estimated two million women in the Global South. In this year-long research project, 100 women with fistula were interviewed regarding their experiences living with fistula and seeking care in order to better understand how fistula and fistula treatment cause social rupture. The research finds that the fistula narrative, or the monolithic portrait of women with fistula (whereby fistula sufferers are universally branded as young girls forced into 'child' marriages, who, following the onset of their postpartum incontinence, are abandoned and mistreated by their kin and exiled from their communities) does not accurately reflect the demographic or social realities of women on the ground. Thus, the formula the fistula narrative follows must be seen as a carefully crafted imaginary that is emblematic of a long-standing pattern of engagement with women's bodies in the Global South that attributes blame for disease to 'culture,' thereby obscuring vast structural inequalities of health access. The research examines the ways in which Western engagement, advocacy, and cultural assumptions obscure healthcare agendas in the Global South. Additionally, the research examines the individual fistula experience, particularly aspects of clinical communication and the medical interface; meanings of waiting and suffering; and local understandings of illness, chronicity, social support, gender and sexuality.
Dissertation Fieldwork Grant
Washington U., St. Louis
Heller, Alison Whitney, Washington U., St. Louis, MO - To aid research on 'After the Stitches: Negotiating Destigmatization Processes among Women with Fistula in Hausa Speaking Niger,' supervised by Dr. Shanti Parikh