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Northern women face divorce, trauma for accessing healthcare from male doctors

If it were not for the timely intervention of the elderly Islamic cleric at Kizara Village in Tsafe Local Government Area of Zamfara State, Garba Umar would have ended his 15-year-old marriage to his wife, Halima.

Her offence was allowing a male doctor attend to her in the labour room.

When efforts by other women in the compound failed to help when she went into labour, she was rushed to the Tsafe General Hospital following noticeable complications that often accompany childbirth.

On getting to the hospital, there were no female doctors or nurses on the ground to attend to her. Thus, they were constrained to allow a male doctor on duty attend to her, at which time her health seemed to be failing.

Reluctant to embrace the option, the women said they had no choice but to allow the doctor (names withheld for security reasons) attend to her.

male doctors are reluctant to attend to female patients, especially in public hospitals, without their husbands present, for their own safety or the possible consequences for the woman

After three days of being in a coma, Halima survived, but she lost the baby. However, her family and friends were consoled that she made it out alive.

But unknown to the distraught mother, the consequences of allowing a male doctor attend to her awaited her at home. Her husband, it was learnt, had become livid, hurled insults at her and even threatened a divorce for allowing a male doctor to attend to her.

Those privy to the drama said Halima was on her way out of the marriage, but for the swift intervention of the cleric, who counselled and cautioned her husband against such a move.

“The cleric told him it wasn’t prohibitive in Islam for a male doctor to attend to a female patient in the absence of female medical personnel,” one of the witnesses say.

Sadly, such an experience is not new, neither is it exclusive to Halima.

The same fate befell Hafsat, a resident of Talata Mafara in Zamfara State, in which case her husband warned that on no account should she seek medical attention from a male doctor in his absence, no matter the gravity of the ailment.

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The vicissitudes of life would, however, compel Hafsat to flout the instruction. Like Hafisat, she was delivered of a baby girl by a male doctor when the husband was unavailable. It took the intervention of family and friends that the marriage didn’t end in a divorce.

Double loss for Mukhtar
Unlike Halima and Hafsat, who were both lucky to have their marriages intact despite flouting the ‘golden rule’ set by their husbands, a 14-year-old mother in Zango Local Government Area of Katsina State, Aminat Mukhtar, wasn’t as lucky. Hers ended in a divorce despite aborting her education because of the marriage.

She said her husband divorced her for allowing a male doctor attend to her when she had complications during childbirth. Sadly, she had a stillbirth. Thus, she lost the baby and her marriage.

Mukhtar, who was a JSS 3 student at a government secondary school in 2022, said she was out of school for a year due to the development, noting that her suitor pressured her for the marriage, a situation that made her drop out of school for one year before the outcome of the short-lived marriage compelled her to return to school.

According to her, the school principal, Fatima Muhammed, was impressed with her courage and allowed her to return to the school. However, she could only return to JSS 3 instead of SS1 as her former classmates were already ahead of her academically.

Mukhtar revealed that her ambition in life was to become a school teacher.

She narrates, “I am 14 years old and the eldest in my family. We are three in the family. The other two are a boy and a girl. I am in JSS3.

“‘I was initially attending school here (Government Girls Secondary School, Baure) when I met a man who said he wanted to marry me. He promised me several things and lured me to drop out of school. After I left school, I kept on seeing my schoolmates, and they told me that some programmes were being implemented at the school to assist students who were from poor homes like me. I made inquiries and confirmed that it was true.

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“I subsequently called off the marriage proposal, and I returned to the school. Our school principal assisted me a lot, and up till now, she keeps on encouraging me. I have no regrets for my decision to return to school. My ambition is to become a schoolteacher and contribute to the development of my community.”

As heartbreaking as these are, such cases are prevalent in some northern states like Katsina, Kano, Sokoto, Bauchi, Zamfara, Kebbi, Jigawa, and others.

In some of the states, male doctors are reluctant to attend to female patients, especially in public hospitals, without their husbands present, for their own safety or the possible consequences for the woman.

This story first appeared in PUNCH. To continue reading, click here

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