Maternity in Mayhem: the hard labor of women from Jungle to Checkpoint
Olga Yetikoua: The Jungle Midwife with the breath of life, as seen on Channel 4's Unreported World
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"The Jungle Midwife" which airs tonight on the UK's Channel 4 Unreported World strand will take us through the plight of Central African women as they struggle to give birth amid war, perennial underdevelopment, and utter devastation. Living under constant threat of abduction by the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), these mothers-to-be rely on the basic assistance of midwife Olga Yetikoua, the unsung heroine of maternity.
The primitive nature of labor stripped of medical advances that still attends these communities of the Central African Republic (CAR) is thrown into relief by the Unreported World crew who take us into the heart of darkness in a jungle setting devoid of electricity and ultrasound. Midwife Olga Yetikoua brings little to the table, bar the drugs she can carry, as she battles bravely to help pregnant women who risk death without her intervention. Armed with little else but the zeal to bring forth the miracle of life, this matron on a mission runs from crisis to crisis, putting her life on the line to save mother and unborn infants in one midwifery feat after the next.
"The Jungle Midwife" calls into question the impact of conflicts on women, and the ordeals they face as violence is perpetrated against them, echoing familiar cries of Middle Eastern women in politically conflicted areas, most contemporaneously, in Syria today. The obstetrical crises attended by our nomadic midwife bereft of maternity ward, bring to mind the various designs used to systematically undermine the female capacity to sustain their lives while reproducing more young, as well as the rudimentary circumstances to which women in war are subjected.
A report by Amnesty International reveals the negative impact of Israel’s occupation and militarization of the conflict on Palestinian women, including the guttoral impact on women in labor being prevented passage through checkpoints to reach a hospital or indeed be reached by a midwife. Maybe more shocking is a recent CNN report that reveals women's fetuses to be the target of Syrian snipers, as these rebel assassins shoot deliberately at the unborn babies.
By perpetuating violence against women, the assailant operates primarily by destroying the most vital social securities and by reducing members of society to "homo sacer" or fair game -- and when women, denied the support owed to them by either male or maternity medic, become cannon fodder, survival of communities is in very real jeopardy.
Though LRA and Israel are fighting different wars, they both invoke the various arenas of women and human rights discourses, appropriating the female body as an agent for their "imagined national body". "Benedict Anderson's proposal that the nation is an "imagined community", and that "[c]ommunities are to be distinguished... by the style in which they are imagined" leaves the ritual of giving birth and the prospective mother to bear out this hypothesis: Anderson's female either fulfils her civic duty by contributing a citizen for her nation, or feels that her reproductive powers are being exploited by her nation, or else is told that she is compounding the "population problem" of her nation.
Back in CAR, a country ravaged by war and violence - and cited as one of the most dangerous places in the world for giving birth -- midwives are more than ever vital for promoting life. The story of this nation's women vying to get by on primitive labor methods is unfortunately likely to be overshadowed by the day's more mainstream 'jungles' or hotbeds of news stories from Afghanistan to Syria. In an attempt to put the spotlight on this untold hard labor, Unreported World's short film unravels the precarious female narrative out of this hidden African corner.
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