Of all the reasons why women should be included at all levels of policy-making, the fact that 800,000 children die in a year in Pakistan is the most critical one.
This country thrives on knee-jerk reactions but has glacial speed when responding to catastrophes. Our family planning arm is as good as a cholera-infested sewer with Pakistan missing its family planning targets, again. It didn’t even miss it by a few thousands but by an increase of about 4 million. You can fill 10 football stadiums with that number.
Just like an incorrigible child, Pakistan is daring to make a new projection by 2025 that it will miss again because of one thing only – Women in Pakistan are not in command of their uteruses. Their husbands, their mother in laws, their mosques and their poverty is.
We have secured the last place in the region in terms of average births per women. Nepal and Bangladesh are ahead of us. We fault our religion, but Iran didn’t let it come in the way, which just goes to show that once again our call to tradition is just a guise for our laziness and incompetence. Iran made contraceptives widely available at all public hospitals and clinics.
There must be something that should differentiate us from bacteria. We really should stop breeding because the more you are the better the odds for the species. There has to be a more revolutionary reason for having kids than that – because they look cute in tiny Disney castles, because they can rock at Lego, because they may become astrophysicists or because they can outdo counterparts at CERN or NASA or Broadway, perhaps?
This culture we so pride ourselves in, throw young girls into the institution of marriage without as much as a lecture on where the uterus is located and how menstruation works. There is only a proliferation of shame. There are only hushed voices and battered rebels. No one tells a young girl – don’t become a mother unless you figure this weird thing called life first. Don’t bare a child unless you are in a safe environment. Don’t become a serial mother just because you can’t enforce child spacing rules with your spouse.
The right to say no is practically non-existent for women here. Be it what to have for family breakfast or when to have children. Women breed until they bleed out, they keep having a chain of girls until they have that gold plated son most likely to be an entitled brat. They keep trying to gain some prestige in society until they have enough humans bonded to them by some overbearing code of honor. No surprise then that most women in hostile familial situations are asked to keep staying until the kids grow up and protect them. Like watching the grass grow.
Its unlikely that the women I define above will turn around but what I want to do is call out the policy makers, the politicians and the self-professed revolutionaries to pause. Halt whatever they think is more important (Religious leaders taking selfies with internet sensations, calling ex-diplomats treacherous or having border wars), and for the sake of the 40% of this country under the burdensome rock of poverty, get behind the family planning cause urgently.
Ever since Zia-ul-Haq we have cowed down to religious leaders giving family planning an unIslamic label. No God wants to wish a caravan of birth on a country where only about half are attended by a skilled medical practitioner. The misery and the blood have turned this region into a hellhole.
The state of women in this country was never a cause for alarm. This Ramzan, this blessed holy month, has seen more honor killings gore than ever. Yet, sooner rather than later, we will have to give our women, rural or urban a better way out to becoming a vending machine without a maintenance contract. They wear and tear. They feel hurt. They want to spend more of their time caring for a child then tending a heard. They feel care fatigue.
Dr Zeba Sathar, the country director of the Population Council of Pakistan in her research said that about 7 million women in Pakistan want to space births or no longer have children but that they are unable to do so. Those are 7 million rabbits in a cage for all practical purposes.
Continue to disempower women and good luck to trying to get this country to emerge into an economic survivor. Out of the 800,000 children that die every year, 35% die of malnutrition. The only problem is that this happens as a whisper and not a bang. We only respond to dog whistles.