Women's health in a rural setting in societal transition in Ethiopia

Y Berhane, Y Gossaye, M Emmelin, U Hogberg
Social Science & Medicine 2001, 53 (11): 1525-39
There are reports indicating a worsening of women's health in transitional rural societies in sub-Saharan Africa in relation to autonomy, workload, illiteracy, nutrition and disease prevalence. Although these problems are rampant, proper documentation is lacking. The objective of this study was to reflect the health situation of women in rural Ethiopia. Furthermore, the study attempts to address the socio-demographic and cultural factors that have potential influence on the health of women in the context of a low-income setting. A combination of qualitative and quantitative research methods was utilised. In-depth interviews and a cross-sectional survey of randomly selected women were the main methods employed. The Butajira Rural Health Program demographic surveillance database provided the sampling frame. Heavy workload, lack of access to health services, poverty, traditional practices, poor social status and decision-making power, and lack of access to education were among the highly prevalent socio-cultural factors that potentially affect the health of women in Butajira. Though the majority of the women use traditional healers younger women show more tendency to use health services. No improvement of women's status was perceived by the younger generation compared to the older generation. Female genital mutilation is universal with a strong motivation to its maintenance. Nail polish has replaced the rite of nail-extraction before marriage in the younger generation. As the factors influencing the health of women are multiple and complex a holistic approach should be adopted with emphasis on improving access to health care and education, enhancing social status, and mechanisms to alleviate poverty.

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