When we talk about gender equality in Nigeria, it usually gets reduced to who cooks and who bears the brunt of childcare. It goes much deeper though and Dr Charles Uzor shares a heartrending story of one example of the disadvantages of a patriarchal society:
A woman walked into the Emergency Room of an Eastern tertiary hospital some years ago. She cradled her babies close to her heaving chest, and seemed full of anxiety and fear. The nurses on night duty quickly responded to the apparent emergency.
My colleague promptly called my attention to the smaller, rather dishevelled child, who looked severely dehydrated and malnourished.
I agreed with him that the baby might have passed on.
After perhaps three minutes that seemed like a decade, the nurse examining the ill child signaled me to come and take a look.
Within seconds, it dawned on me that the baby was cold and stiff as a rock. Death must have occurred many hours before.
It was a classic case of Brought In Dead (BID). The woman would soon burst into tears and loud screams. We managed to learn from her that the child had been vomiting and passing watery stool for about a week.
His twin was in superb health. Asked why she did not seek care until that evening, she claimed that her husband travelled out of state, and she had been waiting for him to return and take a decision.
Incidents like this occurred with alarming regularity when I worked at Enugu State teaching hospital. Many mothers do not know that homemade oral rehydration solution is lifesaving during episodes of childhood diarrhoeal illness. Complicating this problem, is the absurd decision making protocol in many families.
A child develops symptoms at school, but due to absent or poorly functional health dispensaries, must be sent back home. The nanny will do her best to treat the child’s fever and stooling, with local remedies, while awaiting the return of one of the parents, usually the mother.
Many a time, the mother would dither and continue the waiting game, for the father who is away at work. Valuable time is lost in the process, and preventable tragedies happen. It is no surprise at all, that the Children’s Emergency Room used to be busier during the later hours of the night.
When we discuss the essence of equal opportunities for men and women, and the overriding importance of educating women in society as well as shared powers of decision making in families, it is sad that people tend to trivialise the issues with the usual “It’s un-African, not our religion” refrain.
I do not care much for the sentimental arguments which claim that men are fundamentally unable to treat women with respect. Having been in medical practice for a while, and with the benefit of sound family ethos, I find the idea that women are the weaker sex, rather misguided and manifestly ludicrous. Scientifically, it holds no water whatever.
I concede that it might take centuries for reason and good sense to take the place of anachronistic ideologies and superstitions, but the march inevitably progresses.
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