EAST AND WESTWhen it’s not “His will” Why blame God? [Archives:2004/736/Health]

May 10 2004

By Jamil Abdul Karim
[email protected]

It's Yemen's most worn-out, useless and, I'd say, harmful phrase that's no-doubt been used thousands of times across the country just today. Yes, it's, as you know, “insha'allah,” or “God-willing.”
I have nothing against deferring things in life that are out of our hands to the Almighty. In a sense, none of us really knows if we're even going to be around tomorrow. But when “insha'allah” is casually plunked into our conversation as a lame excuse for our utter failure to be honest with ourselves and others, we're mocking our own intelligence. We're also bringing dishonour to the character of God.

Yemen's mothers
Look at this as it relates to women – specifically mothers – in Yemen. After all, Sunday was Mother's Day in much of the world. There were hugs, smiles, flowers and phones calls. But did you know that in a typical North American city, fewer than 1 in 4,000 women will die from childbirth, while in Yemen the rate is about one hundred times higher?
Chance are, especially if you're from a rural area, you may have a friend or relative who died or suffered debilitating sickness from childbirth. The worst part is that most can be saved. One in four simply bleed to death. A medication costing less than a bottle of cola could stop that. But often neither properly-stocked clinics nor properly-trained medics are in reach.
Why is that? In large part, because too many otherwise nice people in this country have the crazy idea that it's “God's will.”
Of course, this isn't about just maternal health. It's about women's rights. And it's also about pro-active, responsible, clear-headed thinking, not to mention planning for the future. It's about recognizing what is truth, and what is a lie.
Enter Dr. Jean Chamberlain Froese, a Canadian obstetrician who works in Yemen to help train Yemeni medics in safer and better ways of child-delivery. Part of the NGO International Community Services, she has been here for much of the past four years.

New infrastructures
And now, with the help of other Canadians, she is creating a new organization called Save the Mothers International, which will help further bring safe childbirth practices to needy countries. It will do so through new societal infrastructures, by training professionals in health care, government, law, media and education.
As Dr. Jean notes “The solution is not just more medical people in hospitals or clinics. It's a multi-disciplinary approach where everybody in society becomes involved in women's health.”
Now consider this. This past century, the world's brightest minds help beat smallpox and, most polio. Space was explored. Genetic codes giving clues to life itself were cracked. And in the last 100 years ago, maternal death rates in the west, which were once about as bad as they are here, improved because people found a proven formula: giving women better access to proper care and resources.
None of this is insha'allah thinking. In fact, it's the antithesis, the exact opposite.
I personally believe the resource-rich west could help the developing world more. We need more Dr. Jeans, or insert the name of any other ex-pat in Yemen trying to improve lives here. Nonetheless, Yemenis need to change their own culture's ways.
Because, how can westerners care for people in far-off places, if their own nationals don't? Any attempts at bringing change will be fruitless. Yet, in my observation, nationals here easily talk the talk of their culture's wonderful equal rights, when in fact they neglect, abuse, violate and turn their backs on their women – often leaving them in lives of perpetual fear ) then shrug their shoulders and say, “It's God's will.”

Gender and soul
God actually has a thing or two to say about how much He loves both the Sons of Adam and the Daughters of Eve, and how he wants us to treat each other. So, I bet He feels rather offended when he gets blamed for things that could be different if people just bothered to be more honest about the deeper attitudes and worldviews that are like cancers in their society.
It's been said a society's culture is a reflection of its soul. Seems to me, then, a few more people here need to figure out just what is the matter with Yemen's soul, especially as it relates to gender relations. Because Mother's Day, whatever day of the year it's celebrated, should be a little more pleasant for women around us.

Jamil Abdul Karim ([email protected]) is an editor at the Yemen Times.