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Our View from the Ground: Is Islam Misogynistic?

Dr. Sita Millimono is Program Officer for EngenderHealth in Guinea.

How did you get into the reproductive health field?

What really motivated me was the difficult loss I had experienced; my older sister died while she was giving birth. This happened during my second year of medical school, and since then, I decided to work as an obstetrician-gynecologist and have been very invested in reproductive health issues. I want to make sure that women don’t have to suffer like my sister and our family did for something as fundamental as giving birth.

As a woman, do you find it difficult to deal with reproductive health issues in a Muslim country?

For me, it is not difficult to tackle reproductive health questions in a Muslim-majority country. It all depends on the approach you take. Communication among Muslim women does not create any problems. But when you’re dealing with men, especially religious leaders, it’s not easy. The taboos still exist, especially when you’re dealing with sexual health and other sensitive issues.

We get around this by involving communities from the start, so that they see how improving sexual and reproductive health can have a profound impact. EngenderHealth’s approach includes activities to sensitize men to the importance of women’s health. A successful strategy has been helping to establish and support Safe Motherhood Village Committees, groups of male and female volunteers who advocate for care and support for pregnant women.

Do you think traditional Islamic beliefs in fact hinder women’s health, or is that a myth?

Actually, I don’t think traditional Islamic beliefs interfere with women’s health. But the problem has been misinterpretation. Those explaining the content of the Koran inject their own beliefs. They interpret the Koran according to how they want it to be read, which means there are different understandings of the Koran and different perspectives on women and their health. So there are misconceptions about women’s health and rights; to bring about change requires a lot of awareness and counseling at the community level.

If there are religious beliefs in Guinea that have hindered/challenged your work, how have you challenged or accommodated them?

It is true that there are religious beliefs that restrict the work that we do. But for me, I know that we can overcome the challenges. Before we go to the field, we research the culture and customs of the people in the specific area where we’re going to be working. When we’re speaking with community members, we speak (or have translations) in the local language and do not use technical words. Most importantly, we adapt and target our communication depending on the people we’re working with—and we are always respectful. We’ve found at the end of the day, everyone wants healthy families.