Liza is a nurse, on assignment for MSF / Doctors Without Borders in Chad. Today she blogs about the place of women in the community where she's based...
French is one of the official languages in Chad. It’s mandatory in school, and school is in theory mandatory too. Those who speak French have most likely all been to school at one point.
The quality of the conversation I have is different according to the level of schooling each person has experienced. Often, people with the best degrees will speak French with one another.
French, since colonization, is associated with knowledge, work, and a good living.
Chad is one of the countries with the fewest girls attending school, which goes to say very few women study at university, or have a stable and well-paying job.
Men are allowed to marry up to four women without having to show any guarantee of means, which would in the least show that they can support their wives financially.
Most of the time marriages are decided between elders. There is a dowry (a woman’s price is different depending on the part of the country, and many other factors are involved), a ceremony and the young girl (a child sometimes) becomes a wife.
I meet a lot of women who were married at the age of fourteen, sometimes younger. Almost always when they marry, they have to stop going to school.
For a woman here, having children isn’t a choice.
Like the social injunction that exists in my birth country (I’ve never had any other answer than “you’ll change your mind eventually’ when I say that I don’t want any children), here it’s a moral obligation. It’s just not possible to not want children.
You have to have babies, and at lot of them, which put women’s health at risk. Having been through more than five births increases the risks of post-partum haemorrhage, spontaneous abortion… In the rural areas where I work, there’s no access to the necessary medication to save these women’s lives, nor to qualified trained personnel.
Abortion is totally illegal in very few countries in the world, contrary to popular belief. Chad is fortunately not one of these countries, and the legal system has laws against rape.
Here, abortion is legal if the woman has suffered sexual violence, or if her life is in immediate danger (what we call 'therapeutic abortions').
In both options, the judiciary procedures in place are extremely long and expensive, making accessing an abortion almost impossible. Some women do it at home, with dirty needles, or using so-called 'remedies' to get rid of the pregnancy and then suffer the consequences.
Sexual violence doesn’t exist, according to the law, between members of the same family in Chad. (In Québec, conjugal rape was legal up until 1983, in France up until 1980 – while keeping a presumption of consent until proven otherwise, still in place now).
Like in every other country in the world, a lot of women here do unpaid work. Raising children, cooking, taking care of the house…
It’s women’s work, no doubt about it, no way to question it here. And because it’s “natural”, it shouldn’t be paid.
We, the few women in the international staff here, regardless of our color and origin, are almost extra-terrestrial. I see the local women observing me, every day, and I wonder what they’re imagining. What are they thinking? What do they think my life is like outside of here?
For statistical data on women's education click here.
For information on women's rights regarding sexual violence click here.