Newt In A Tea Cup

{March 8, 2008}   World Women’s Day- Update

Haven’t written for a while since the connection is difficult here but I thought I should make an effort since it’s world women’s day. Am currently hanging out with some really cool fearless women, two of whom have been working for years as midwifes in Morocco, one who is a friend of theirs visiting and currently works as a midwife in Afghanistan. My current schedule is spending the mornings working in the clinic (taking blood pressures, weighing babies etc…), am starting on a project of figuring out the effectiveness of the teaching lessons for first time mothers and going on an immense number of post-natal visits. I am very privileged to having been offered the chance to do some education lessons on hygiene and so on in the Atlas mountains.

However the main focus of my thoughts has been a young fifteen year old I’ll call K. She gave birth to her baby just under three weeks ago and the father is in jail for two years since she’s underage though from what we understand it was all consensual.

Because she’s unmarried the stigma is unbelievably huge and I can’t even begin to describe this.

(Of course I’ve already met a sixteen year old who is expecting her first – due when seventeen- but she’s married so no one is bothered by that.)

Her mother, who by all accounts is not quite right in the head and spends her time standing in the street begging and screaming, will not have anything to do with her. K’s father is dead and her upbringing has obviously not been easy.

As a result she does not have any role models or instruction on how to care for her baby beyond the visits we give her and even then we have a suspicion she’s not really listening. This morning one of the midwives I’m staying with went to visit her and found mold growing in the baby bottle with what we suspect is biscuit crumbs- this could well kill her child.

It’s not that she’s stupid as we have met other mother’s who’ve done the same if not worse. It’s a huge lack of education and illiteracy. The idea that women naturally know how to care for children is demonstratively false. Really, really false. The patriarchy is killing itself- how many more children would survive if their mother’s knew how to read and write, were allowed to be clever and have an income to buy them warm clothes? How much better would men’s lives be if they were able to enjoy full companionship with women?

/tangent- It’s odd but this experience has really shown me a lot of how patriarchy hurts men since it would be completely and utterly inappropriate for me to be involved in men’s issues and education here- they simply would not listen to me and view me as degraded! It’s them that loose out. Also how much can I as a women help that woman who came to clinic upset because of her husband beating her? He’s the one who’s got to stop hitting her and do you really think he’d listen to a woman telling him that? It’s so important that men get involved here./end tangent

K is living in a windowless house with two other girls, both illiterate and both thirteen. They have absolutely no parental supervision, no money, no water and no electricity. I brought them some pancakes and chocolate spread as a gift yesterday but previously had no idea they didn’t have food! We also gave her baby girl it’s first bath in her lifetime yesterday… She’s gaining a bit of weight but her mother does not feed her nearly often enough (twice a day) and tends to go out the house a lot. She’s frighteningly skinny is not wrapped up nearly warm enough and, in view of the high infant mortality rate, she needs a lot more help. Watching her mother joking around with her house mates I kept thinking “This is a Jacqueline Wilson novel. A twisted, terrifying, horrific Jacqueline Wilson novel.”

I can’t solve this problem. The local community needs to step in and from what I’ve heard they are usually pretty good especially for people with disabilities. However this situation should not exist in the first place. The good news is the number of professional people I have been meeting who recognize the problem and are dedicating time and effort to solving it. I find it oddly encouraging that for all the problems here it isn’t that hard for people who recognize there are problems. In the UK we don’t want to imagine anything bad happens in our “civilized” shores. That and there are many aspects of this society, such as the focus on family, community support and generosity that we could seriously learn from.

Otherwise I’m healthy and well.


Rachel says:


Can’t really say much more than that. I hope things go ok for K – and I’m glad you’re still alive and well.

Richie says:

That’s heartbreaking to hear; I’m just glad that there are people like you there and that you’re doing OK.

erika says:

Do I take it that she is NOT breastfeeding? If this is true then that is another way that Patriarchy has hurt this girl and her baby. Breastmilk comes out sterile and the poorest women who breastfeeds has a healthier baby than the richest women who bottle feeds. Even a women who has little food for herself can make high quality milk that is literally the difference between life and death for her baby. I’d be interested to hear what you experiences of this are and how formula is being marketed/pushed and how breastfeeding is undermined.
“The idea that women naturally know how to care for children is demonstratively false.”
This is true to some extent but when a woman breastfeeds her body is flooded with hormones that make her want to pick her baby up, keep it warm, feed it, love it…and this is what ‘natural’ behavior is. But we have to be taught how to breastfeed in the first place.

tcupnewt says:

Thanks so much for your concern and encouragement. It means a lot to me. 🙂

Erika- she is breastfeeding mostly but not enough; it used to be twice a day but now she has gone up to four times. She has tried feeding the baby eggs (mostly she goes out a lot and leaves the baby behind so her friends want something to feed it). The girl has certainly been screwed over. If the child dies she’ll go to jail, if she gets pregnant out of wedlock a second time it’s also a term in jail. The thing is she is young and immature enough not to understand her situation and she doesn’t act accordingly. She just has not taken to motherhood and I don’t think she likes it much.

The women here are NOT educated (this girl is illiterate and left school very young) and when they see something that is packaged and shiny they think that it must be healthy! This, I think, is more a crime of capitalism and commercialization where money comes above lives. Most average men, whilst struggling with many patriarchal ideas, of course do not want their children to die. The midwife is highly respected and I’m sure most of them, if they understood women’s education would help children survive, would not object. The problem is, strangely enough and reminiscent to the cases of FGM (mostly absent from morocco), coming from the grandmothers. As men have nothing to do with children they do not know better re:women and education and so on. They ignore the issue with cultural blinkers and assume women naturally know without any help.

It’s grandmothers who promote old superstitions and harmful things and in an shame-society where elders are everything refuting them is very hard. In fact one the women I’m staying with always says “Let me teach the grandmothers and the problem will go away.”

I’m actually doing a study comparing the effects of education on rates of breastfeeding and the experience of labour etc… Hopefully it will be published in a midwifery magazine so I’ll keep you updated on my findings.

erika says:

Wow, that sounds really interesting. Sorry for jumping to conclusions.

tcupnewt says:

Not at all! There’s defintely a lot of patriarchy at play and I think there’s a strong argument in how capitalism/corporations and patriarchy are all linked that bears exploring. The difficulty with the system is that the agents bringing about are not always the ones we expect… doesn’t mean the effect is different. 🙂

hey newt – full of admiration; keep doing it!

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