Miriam Lajab, (not real name) is due for delivery in the next few weeks. A stone-throw away from her Malundani Village, in Traditional Authority (T/A) Nyambi in Machinga is a government health centre where she can delivery her baby.
But being Muslim, Lajab may have to travel miles away to access maternity services compatible with her faith.
“We only have a male midwife at the nearest health centre. And my faith does not allow me to see or get treated by a male midwife,” she said in an interview last week.
A shortage of personnel to deliver babies has been one of the major concerns in the health sector.
In fact, the problem forced government to introduce full training programmes exclusively for midwifery to ensure that birth attendants are well-trained, irrespective of their sex.
While the Christian community has not objected to the inclusion of men into midwifery, Muslims says it is not only against their religious values and principles, but also uncultural for men, other than their husbands, to see women’s private parts.
Islamic Information Bureau (IIB) national coordinator Sheikh Dinala Chabulika agrees with Lajab
“It is not right for a woman’s body to be touched by any other man except her husband. The scenario of men delivering women is not acceptable in the Islamic faith,” he said.
Chabulika said Muslims are against the presence of male midwives in labour wards because this robs women of the dignity they deserve; and further violates their right to privacy.
He was, however, quick to clarify that there is no verse in the Qur’an that stops women from seeing a male midwife.
But Chabulika said the Muslim community will not bulge on the matter until something is done to reverse this decision [of training and recruiting male midwives].
He said Muslims will continue to lobby government to abolish male midwifery in the country. He added that they are, in the meantime, planting their faith-oriented health facilities to ensure they do not compromise Muslim beliefs and cultural norms.
“As Muslims, what we’re emphasising that the issue of culture should come first. It’s totally un-African for a man other than the husband to see the private parts of a woman.
“In fact, even a Christian husband wouldn’t allow his wife to be attended to by a male midwife,” he stressed.
National Organisation of
Nurses and Midwives in Malawi (Nonm) Harriet Kapyepye said the policy on training and recruitment of midwives says all persons, irrespective of sex, are eligible to join [the profession] as long as they have qualifications.
She did not have the number of male midwives government has so far trained, but said there were a number of them providing services in various health facilities across the country.
Kapyepye was not aware of Muslims’ stance on male midwives.
“Before the introduction of the policy, government consulted all relevant authorities, including the faith community, but no concern was raised on the training and recruitment of male midwives in public hospitals,” she said.
She asked government to redeploy male midwives from conservative to liberal areas.
Chief of Health Services in the Ministry of Health Dr. Charles Mwansambo said the ministry has not registered any complaint from Muslims about male midwives
He said one of the ministry’s guiding principles is to ensure that every Malawian has access to health services without distinction by ethnicity, gender, disability, religion, political belief, economic and social condition or geographical location.