Burundi has a lot of Muslims, but it doesn’t have a lot of female Muslim gynecologists which is a problem for Muslims trying to make more Muslims. Well more of a problem for Muslim women. The men just start on another baby if this one dies and start on another wife if this one dies.
“I cannot go to a gynecologist. If I do I’ll have problems with my husband,” says a pregnant Aisha. Like her, many Muslim women in Burundi are not allowed to be treated by a male doctor. It is forbidden. In a country with only three women gynecologists, access to specialised healthcare for Muslim women is limited.
Aisha, a young shopkeeper, must always be accompanied by her husband Mohamed Issa either for routine check-ups or any other medical treatment.
“I cannot accept the fact that my wife goes alone to the hospital,” says Issa. “I cannot stand the idea of my wife being touched by another man, not even a doctor.”
A Muslim religious leader, who prefers anonymity, says it is a universal law and that their faith forbids women from being treated by male doctors. He says “women can only be treated by Muslim women.” But he adds that in the case of Burundi, where female doctors are few, non-Muslim female doctors are accepted and a male doctor can intervene only in the event of medical complications. “But then the husband needs to be present,” he insists.
There are only three female and 15 male gynecologists in the whole of Burundi. One of them, who wants to remain anonymous, says that she is always overbooked and that most of her patients are Muslim.
“I don’t know how long I can live with these religious prescriptions,” says Aisha. “It would be easy to go to the nearest hospital. But it is very hard to convince my husband.”
While waiting for the situation to improve, Aicha and many other Muslim women can only count on themselves to convince their husbands to change their attitude.
This may take some time as Aicha’s husband keeps saying that “I find it shameful to watch a gynecologist touch my wife, especially certain hidden parts of her body. I can’t accept it.”