From child bride to UNFPA midwife saving women’s lives in Afghanistan

Amina Mansoory is the only midwife serving in a remote district (population:1500) of Herat province in western Afghanistan. © UNFPA Afghanistan

CHISHTI SHARIF, Herat province, Afghanistan –  At 14, she was married. By her 15th birthday, she had borne her first child. But Amina Mansoory’s story does not end in the way all too common with early marriage and childbearing. “Although my father wed me off early, he told my husband-to-be and in-laws not to prevent me from attending school,” said Ms. Mansoory, now 23 and a mother of two.  

According to a UNFPA report, almost half of Afghan women between the ages of 15-49 were married by age 18, and nearly one in seven women had been married by age 15 as of 2015. Frequently, child marriages (defined as marriage before age 18) spell the end of the bride’s education, limiting her future economic opportunities

After Ms. Mansoory suffered excruciating pain during her first pregnancy because of the unavailability of a skilled birth attendant and lack of reproductive health services, she decided she would help mothers and newborns one day.  “I should have been a child. I should have enjoyed my adolescence. But I lost those joys forever and instead suffered child-bearing before my body was ready,” she recalls.  

A new purpose

In her traditional community, the remotest district of Herat province in  western Afghanistan and where girls are denied higher education, Ms. Mansoory was the first female to complete high school and continue with two years of professional midwifery training. “Elders of our village were against my decision to go to school, especially when I married and became a mother. It was taboo,” she explained. “But my father was adamant. He told me to ignore what people were saying and instead show them the need for education.” 

Now she’s the community midwife at a UNFPA Family Health House, the sole one serving her area and surrounding villages in Afghanistan. Since 2016,  she has helped deliver 524 babies, conducted over 900 antenatal and postnatal visits and led more than 800 family planning sessions by herself. Her in-laws, who made good on their promise of supporting her education, recognize how important her work is. And when she has to make a housecall, her husband gives her a ride on his motorbike. 

Married young, she had her first child at 15, when she decided she wanted to help other mothers and newborns. She was able to realize her aspiration with her family’s support for her education. © UNFPA Afghanistan

Advocating for a new generation

As the global COVID-19 pandemic hit, risk of infection was high in her community (the exact number of reported cases in her area is unknown), resources to prevent the spread were limited and she herself contracted the virus last summer. “I couldn’t work for two to three weeks. But right after my recovery I returned to work,” including overseeing COVID-19 awareness-raising sessions. She also continues to advocate for women’s rights by conducting sessions to encourage use of health facilities and support for reproductive health. Amina also discourages families from marrying off underage daughters.  

Sometimes she tends to young pregnant girls – as she had once been. She’s happy she can help others in a way she was not helped back then. “Whenever I have doubts, I just remember what my life was like,” she said. “And then I am renewed with motivation to continue so no woman or girl suffers as I did.”

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