Ruby only started menstruating yesterday and today, she is married off to a man old enough to be her father. Months later, she struggles to birth her child. As her baby dies, so is her dream of motherhood.
While grappling with the pain of loss, her second tragedy begins. She can’t understand why she is leaking both urine and faeces.
Brimstones And Rainbows, a book by Ololade Akintoye, addresses child brides and how they are the most vulnerable to Obstetric Fistula.
WHO describes Obstetric Fistula as one of the most serious and tragic injuries that can occur during childbirth.
In commemoration of this year’s International Day to End Obstetric Fistula, Sola Abe chats with Ololade Akintoye about her book.
What inspired your book?
I have always been passionate about social issues and I have always found ways to creatively weave my writing around causes that will inspire people to seek and take positive actions and changes.
Several years ago, a close contact of mine shared her personal experience of Female Genital Mutilation with me and how it negatively affected her life.
As a student of Mass Communication at the time, I was curious to know the role the mass media played in the curtailment of harmful practices and customs that encouraged gender-based sexual violence. I, later on, wrote my first dissertation about ‘The Role of the Mass Media in the Curtailment of FGM’.
During the course of my in-depth research, I discovered so many more culturally embedded gender-based violence, all over the world, moreover in underdeveloped countries.
For instance, I found out about the sexual rite of passage for teenage girls in Malawi and the Trokosi system of ritual servitude in Ghana, where virgin girls are offered to religious shrines to serve the priests, and these girls are also used to satisfy the sexual desires of these priests. That was when I also came across several cases of Obstetric Fistula in Nigeria, resulting majorly from child marriage. That was when the seed of ‘Brimstones and Rainbows; Memoirs of a Child Bride’, was first planted in my heart. It is more than a story. It is a cause.
How did you feel while researching and writing the book?
It was truly an emotional rollercoaster penning down this narrative. Even though the characters of B&R are fictional, the horrors of the child bride are nothing that can be imagined in reality.
There were times I literally broke down in tears during the course of my research and writing B&R. There were times I went from livid anger to deep sadness and frustration, more so because the practice of child marriage is still very much prevalent in Nigeria.
According to UNICEF, Nigeria is ranked as the 11th highest rate of child marriage globally while the number of women currently living with OF range from 400,000 to 800,000, and annually, an additional 50,000 to 100,000 new cases occur in the country.
What is the best way to tackle harmful age-long practices against women and girls?
One of the best ways to tackle social issues relating to harmful customs and practices against women and children is to raise awareness through education and push for policymakers to put certain laws into place that protect the basic human rights of children, especially the child protection bill. The child protection bill entails the right to quality education, the right to quality healthcare, protection against child labour, prohibition of child marriage, female genital mutilation, and all forms of harmful practices that fall under the umbrella of gender-based violence.
If first, the constitution does not provide protection, how can these rights be established and implemented?
We also need more NGOs to join the cause to intensify awareness. We need more people who can go to the grassroots and speak with community leaders on the dangers of these harmful practices against children and women.
There are beautiful customs and traditions that enhance the quality of life and heritage of a people, those should be encouraged while those that are found to be harmful to the mental and physical wellbeing of members of the society must be abolished.
Most importantly, girls need to be empowered through education or vocational skills and with the right information and not forced into marriage.
Economic support for families in rural communities with a high prevalence of child marriage is also important, because, a lot of families also give their daughters away in marriage because of poverty.
Despite the level of exposure, we continue to read stories of child brides, do you think this would ever end?
Truth is, there isn’t enough exposure or awareness at the moment, especially at the grassroots of society where some of these harmful customs and traditions still have a stronghold, neither is there constitutional provision for the protection of child rights. If there were, the statistics wouldn’t be staggering.
We can’t deny this issue is rampant in the north, how best do you think it can be addressed, putting into consideration their religious beliefs?
UNICEF (2003) has established clear links between leadership development and achieving public health outcomes through faith leaders. In other words, religious leaders need to be engaged and equipped with the right education that can help them shape the needed reforms.
Ruby’s story ended well, sadly, it is not the same for many girls like her. How can we ensure more girls have a happy ending like her?
Ruby would have spent the rest of her life living not only with the horrible condition of incontinence but also with the shame and stigmatisation, if nobody had told her about the possibility of a cure at the Fistula Repair Centre.
The Fistula Foundation has partnered with several hospitals nationwide and globally to provide free fistula repairs for fistula patients. We need the government, as well as more individuals and NGOs, to join the cause in raising awareness so that instead of hibernating in the condition, patients can reach out for medical care.
This is also the best way to curb the stigmatisation attached to the condition, if more fistula patients and their families know that the condition is curable, they will seek help.