Developing nations are plagued by high maternal mortality rates, unwanted pregnancies, and family planning policies that aim to control population growth through sterilization and unsafe birth control drugs. In such harsh settings, traditional midwives are important and effective agents of women's wellness and family planning policy. This essay will evaluate the community roles of professional versus traditional midwives in rural Asia, including discussion regarding the meager respect afforded traditional midwives by physicians and clinic staff without acknowledging the work they accomplish with such limited resources. Analysis of the results of midwife training programs will compare government-sponsored programs' curricula to outreach education by colleagues from the international community, showing that these professional midwives provide methods for integrating traditional midwives into professional (hospital) circles as well as offering more realistic approaches to midwives in indigenous communities in the face of Western biomedicine's influx into government policy. Data will also be presented that suggests that maternal mortality rates are reduced as a result of pre- and post-partum care from midwives, and that education and home visits by midwives helps advance women's status by increasing their ability to regulate their fertility. Professional versus Traditional Midwives
The international definition of midwife ratified by the World Health Organization (WHO) describes an individual who has completed a duly recognized program of study and is registered or legally licensed to practice midwifery in their country (WHO, 2000). This differs from most cultural definitions of a midwife. More often, midwives are any woman experienced in birth and recognized by her community to be a midwife. WHO calls these women Traditional Birthing Assistants (TBAs), and considers them care providers who fall outside the formal sector of skilled birth attendants. However, these women are experienced in maternal care and offer expertise to their clients. They are also accepted by their communities as able midwives and habitually afforded more trust than professionals.
Professional midwives in Northern nations receive eight or more years of education. Their practice is usually categorized as an alternative form of healthcare. In fact, an estimated two-thirds of all babies born globally are delivered by midwives, most of whom are traditional (Rogers & Solomon, 1975). In developing nations, government programs have been implemented to train young women from urban settings in professional midwifery to ultimately work in rural communities. After completing the required two-year program, they are sent into cultures unlike their own to work in under-funded, ill-supplied clinics where medicines are sold out the back door to make up for the meager salaries earned. These young urban women expect to be treated with respect and see themselves as superior to TBAs (Davis-Floyd, 2000). However, community midwives are trusted and respected elders with experience in birth assistance, and most have children of their own. While most traditional midwives receive no formal education, many feel a spiritual calling to the role, and still some take over the position after the death of a mother or grandmother (Rogers & Solomon, 1975). While some undertake long apprenticeships, nearly all learn simply by attending many births (Davis-Floyd, 2000). Family Planning and Western Medicine
In international discourse, the professional midwife community considers the current trend in family planning initiatives to have begun with United States Security Memorandum 200 (Lim & Zenack, 2000). When Henry Kissinger penned this bill in 1974, he produced a document of Malthusian alarmism, claiming that estimates on population increases would reach numbers beyond the capacity of the earth's ability to produce food. Like the extreme Malthusians known to...
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