Thursday, October 19, 2017

One woman’s resolve to eradicate polio in Pakistan

By Munazza Anwaar

Having prepared an afternoon meal for her family, Fiaz Bibi, a woman in her late 20s, covers herself in a black burqa and leaves for local dispensary. Crossing muddy, uneven path that connects her one bedroom house to the main village road, she waits for 5-6 minutes scanning both sides of road for any rickshaw sign that will take her to dispensary. But there is none, and she decides to walk up to dispensary. Covering 4-5kms on thorny road, braving the weather and judging eyes of neighborhood men, she reaches dispensary.

It’s second day of door-to-door Polio vaccination campaign in her area and Fiaz Bibi is a Polio Vaccination Team Lead in this remote village near Wah Cantonment. Her decision to work for polio eradication finds strength in her love for humanity, and for her community.
Women in Pakistan have been a centripetal force in the country’s drive against Polio, zeroing in on their target with an unfaltering resolve, despite several sociocultural and economic constraints.
“My village has a high-risk population. When I see healthy and fit children running around the streets of my village, I fear for them that they may fall victim to this nefarious disease (Polio). So, I made up my mind to fight Polio till my last.”
Fiaz Bibi is a pioneer champion against Polio in her vicinity and has almost no facilitators. She is a brave female warrior in a locality where prejudice and patriarchy mar vaccination campaigns. She speaks of the barriers she has to overcome and the indiscrimination she suffers while working.
“I am a woman…but unlike other women of my village, I am determined towards a noble cause. I know there are men, and of course women, that do not like me for what I am doing, but if not me, who else? I can sense the mixed looks that see through me every time I walk around the streets to vaccinate the angels on earth. I know how it feels, how scorn and malice can bring you to your knees but, these children, they are my strength. They keep me moving forward with my head high. I will continue to vaccinate, and convince families, for the sake of these children. I know, I will.”
Fiaz Bibi volunteered as a vaccinator for some 106 families with about 556 children in a high risk populated area no one would like to go. But she does and that too with a smile on her face. She follows a 5 days per week schedule and gets paid only $20 for a week long campaign. Her task is arduous and requires a lot of traveling, on foot, with temperatures crossing 45 on most of summer days.
Each day, she walks to a local dispensary, some 4-5 kilometers from her home. It is from here that she embarks on her campaign. Her first task is to reach such homes that have had zero vaccination and find children that have been missed. Convincing families is an onerous job, often involving harsh words being hurled at her, but she braves this onslaught and comes out victorious more than often.
“Most people here work in bhathas (brick kilns) with a high turnover. The workers relocate to kilns from their native places during the season and then return. Every few months with new people coming in to work at the kilns, increasing the risk of more children being affected by polio. Due to illiteracy and lack of understanding, many people are averse to polio vaccination drives and try to avoid all efforts towards the eradication of this disease.”
In a country where Polio workers fear for their lives, women lead from the front. Despite the fact that Polio vaccinators are soft target, more and more women are volunteering to be a part of the drive against this disease. The number of women working in the field is higher because male vaccinators are not allowed to enter all premises owing to certain cultural barriers.
Fiaz Bibi says that female workers act as the backbone in Pakistan’s Anti-Polio campaign. “Women are able to understand each other better. Where men are more rigid and firm in their decisions, it is easier for me as a female to talk to the women of the house, and better explain how vaccination is going to help our future generations. Since children are the concern, mothers give in much easily.” She goes on to say that in the high-risk population that she lives in, the number of young children is increasing at an alarming rate as there is little or no family planning, risking the outbreak of an endemic. This is why Fiaz Bibi is determined to eradicate Polio from her region, and hopes that Pakistan will be free from the disease soon.
Her campaigns are well planned. She knows where to begin from, and where to end. After checking on families that have been missed, she moves on to recheck the families that have been vaccinated. “I need to make sure that no child here goes unvaccinated. I think some families are tired of the rounds I make (letting out a laugh) but it is my moral duty to ask them if they have some visitors that have unvaccinated children, or if any of their children is left.” It is a part of her routine to check upon schools as well and ask teachers to inform her of any unvaccinated child.
She is familiar with every nook and cranny of her vicinity well enough to have an accurate figure of the families and children that live there. Having accurate data of the target population helps provide ample amount of vaccination and manpower to the area.
At the day end, Fiaz Bibi, just like most housewives, returns to her house and winds up all the work she is entitled to do at her home, from washing dishes to doing laundry, from cooking to cleaning. She is no different than the rest of the ladies on any evening, except that she wears a smile of satisfaction on her face, knowing that she has further pushed Polio towards the edge of the cliff.
Even though Fiaz Bibi’s village is a high-risk vicinity, no new polio case has been discovered over the past few years, only because of her nerves of steel, and continuous efforts to vaccinate as many children as possible.
“I have been here long enough to know these people well,” says Fiaz Bibi, “I know how to tackle them, and how to convince them to vaccinate their children. This is a really difficult task, vaccinating every child, because families here are moving every now and then, but I am glad that I am able to reach as much children as possible, and every child in my area is vaccinated.
Thousands of women like Fiaz Bibi are sacrificing a lot in their efforts to eliminate Polio from Pakistan, and are hopeful of a healthier future for the children of Pakistan. These strong and hardworking women of immense courage are a silver lining for the generations to come. They are role models in the final push to end polio from country and a source of hope for polio free dream of Pakistan.

#Education - What’s Really Keeping #Pakistan’s Children Out of School?


On a visit to a village school in the mountains near Abbottabad in northwestern Pakistan, I asked a group of third graders to spell “Pakistan.” They stared at me, silent and bewildered. The school had 20 students; only two have survived till the fifth grade. The two fifth graders were somewhat literate. One of them had learned to read and write at a private school, but even he struggled to write simple, misspelled sentences.
Less than half of third graders in Pakistan can read a sentence in Urdu or local languages. Thirty-one percent can write a sentence using the word “school” in Urdu, and 11 percent can do it in English.
Children in government schools report that teachers have them clean, cook, massage their feet and buy them desserts. Children are categorized as smart or stupid as soon as they start school. Corporal punishment is severe. Parents will send their kids to a private school if they can afford a few dollars a month, but they do not see government schools as worth it.
Since 2010, Pakistan has more than doubled what it budgets for education, from $3.5 billion to $8.6 billion a year. The budget for education now rivals the official $8.7 billion military budget. The teaching force is as big as the armed forces.
But Pakistan has a learning crisis that afflicts its schoolchildren despite much debate and increase in funding for education because policy interventions by the government and foreign donors misdiagnosed what is keeping children out of school.
Although aid programs of the United States and Britain contribute a mere 2 percent of the education budget, those countries and the local elite, whose own children go to high-end private schools, have emphasized that Pakistanis demand education and that more children should be enrolled in school.
But the demand for education is already high, evidenced by the mushrooming of low-cost private schools that now enroll 40 percent of students in the country and charge as little as $2 a month.
Foreign donors also want Pakistanis to send their girls to schools, but a 2014 Pew survey found that 86 percent of Pakistanis believe that education is equally important for boys and girls, while another 5 percent said it was more important for girls. Even in the northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa — where Malala Yousafzai is from — government high schools for girls are enrolled beyond their capacity.
Pakistan’s education crisis is a supply-side problem. Enrollment rates are used as the measure for progress because Pakistan has the second-largest population of out-of-school children in the world. But the proportion of 5- to 9-year-olds in school is the same as it was in 2010: 57 percent. With teachers chronically absent from school at a rate of 20 to 30 percentand most of the education budget going into their above-market salaries ($150 to $1,000 a month), doubling the budget was never the solution to Pakistan’s education crisis.
A vast number of aspirational families in Pakistan invest a large proportion of their income in educating their children at low-cost private schools. They do not speak English at home but they demand English at school, because it is the language of the elite and the global marketplace. So Pakistan’s private schools use English textbooks and tests, even though 94 percent of private-school teachers don’t know English.
A result is that the children are rote learning to get through tests in a language they don’t understand. By the time these students get to a university, where the medium of instruction is English, they are copying their papers from the internet without consequence. Plagiarism is not just a norm; it is a necessity.
Instead of English-language schooling, Pakistani schools need to figure out how to teach English as a second language and allow children to study in languages they know. The government also needs to measure literacy and numeracy for children in school instead of enrollment. Currently, there are no reliable data sets that can be used for year-on-year comparisons.
The problem is that donors have created too much noise. Convinced by their own solutions and backed by foreign expertise and international consensus, foreign donors have run high-profile advocacy campaigns and monopolized the attention of bureaucrats, party leaders and the version of civil society that Pakistan has developed in response to them.
Pakistan has made some progress in improving school infrastructure, hired teachers on merit and reduced an old problem of absentee rates among teachers through monthly checks by school monitors. Officials in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces insist that the ghost schools of the early 2000s are a problem of the past.
But to turn schools into places that provide education will require a local constituency asking the right questions. The hottest issue regarding education in Pakistan right now is limiting the fees that high-end private schools charge. If elites mobilized as effectively around issues that affect the majority of Pakistanis, we would see faster and more meaningful change.
Eighteen million of the 23 million out-of-school children in Pakistan are between 10 and 16 years old. Efforts to reach them have been negligible. These children opted out of a failing education system and now they have aged. They will not now go to school if it means starting in kindergarten. They need accelerated programs, or short crash courses in literacy and math to help them enroll with their age group.
Even if these children do not go back to school — international evidence suggests they won’t — they will, at least, become literate adults.

#AhmadiMuslims - #Pakistan, Land of the Intolerant

By Mohammed Hanif
This country has a poor record of protecting its religious minorities, but we outdo ourselves when it comes to Ahmadis. Members of the sect insist on calling themselves Muslims, and we mainstream Muslims insist on treating them like the worst kind of heretics.
The day I wrote this piece, a small headline in a newspaper informed me that an Ahmadi lawyer, his wife and two-year-old child had been shot dead by gunmen at home, for being Ahmadis. Killings like this have happened so many times that the story wasn’t even the main news. On May 28, 2010, some 90 Ahmadis were killed during attacks on two mosques in Lahore. No public official attended the funerals.
You would think that the government, law enforcers and the courts would do something about such sustained acts of brutality. But they are too hard at work. I learned from another recent headline that a district court near Lahore, in eastern Pakistan, had sentenced three Ahmadi men to death for blasphemy. A fourth man was shot dead before the trial while in police custody.
It is always prudent not to ask what blasphemous act is said to have been committed, because under the law, repeating something blasphemous can itself constitute blasphemy. According to one newspaper report, the men were on trial for attempting to remove from a wall religious posters that incited hatred against Ahmadis. That’s right, they were sentenced to death for taking down posters that incited people to kill them. (The prosecution argued that since the posters were religious, removing them was an insult to the Prophet Muhammad.)
The Ahmadi (or Ahmadiyya) sect is a reformist movement founded by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad toward the end of the 19th century in the city of Qadian, in what is today the Indian part of Punjab. Ahmad claimed to be the incarnation of a Messiah promised in Islamic holy texts. That challenged the mainstream Muslim belief that Muhammad is Islam’s last and final prophet. Ahmad was accused of being an agent of the British Empire.
There are no reliable statistics about the number of Ahmadis in Pakistan today. Many Ahmadis don’t publicly identify as Ahmadi; others refuse to take part in the census. Estimates range from 500,000 to four million.
In 1974, Pakistan’s elected Parliament declared Ahmadis to be non-Muslims. Religious parties had held street protests demanding this, and even though Parliament back then was full of liberals and socialists, there was hardly a dissenting voice when the time came to pass the law.
Our Parliament today is still at it. Last week Muhammad Safdar, a son-in-law of the recently deposed prime minister, thundered against Ahmadis, demanding they be banned from joining the armed forces. He also demanded that a physics department of a university in Islamabad be renamed because in 2016 it was named after Abdus Salam, the only Pakistani scientist to become a Nobel laureate. The Pakistani government had already taken close to four decades to name anything after Mr. Salam, a theoretical physicist, because he was Ahmadi. It appears that not a single parliamentarian spoke up against Mr. Safdar’s diatribe.
Earlier this month, Parliament also changed the oath that Pakistanis are required to take to get a passport or run in an election. A standard version of the statement goes: “I hereby solemnly declare that I consider Mirza Ghulam Ahmad Qadiani to be an impostor nabi and also consider his followers, whether belonging to the Lahori or Qadiani group, to be non-Muslims.” (Nabi means prophet.) Language in the election law was changed from “I solemnly declare” to “I believe.”
It’s not clear why this happened. The government claims it was a clerical error. But there was a public uproar over the change, including accusations that the government was going soft on Ahmadis. Parliament promptly backtracked, and we all resumed solemnly declaring rather than just believing.
The word “Ahmadi” was hardly even used during the debate in Parliament. We prefer to call the Ahmadis “Qadianis,” meaning from Qadian. Ahmadis consider the word derogatory, which is why we use it.
I got a call a few months ago from my family who still lives in my ancestral village in Punjab. A stranger had come asking about me, I was told. He claimed to be my friend from school. While I was still trying to put a forgotten face to the name, my relative asked, “Is your friend a Qadiani?” I suddenly remembered the boy from my school who was indeed a friend and happened to be Ahmadi. I asked the relative, “How did you know he was a Qadiani?” The reply shouldn’t have shocked me, but it did. “I have an inbuilt Qadiani detector. I can always smell them.”
I wanted to remind my relative that when I was a kid and he was a young man, all his best friends were Ahmadis and I had seen him locked in our bathroom smoking his first cigarette with those infidels. But then I remembered the slap.
It must have been around 1974. I was about nine years old and was taking my Quran lessons. My teacher was gentle. At the time, protesters in the bazaars were asking shoppers not to go to Ahmadi-owned shops. I asked my teacher who the Ahmadis were, and he patiently explained that they were heretics, because they challenged the notion that Muhammad was Islam’s last prophet. I said, even if they are heretics, does Islam say we can’t buy stuff from their shops? The slap was full and hard.
As I grew up, Ahmadis went from being treated as zealous reformist Muslims to non-Muslims to kafir, or heretics — worse even than Hindus or Jews. In the mid-1980s, a decade after Ahmadis were declared non-Muslims, another set of laws forbade them to act like Muslims.
This is the tricky bit, because Ahmadis insist on calling themselves Muslim and behave like Muslims. They pray in mosques, they call out the azaan at prayer time, they say “assalam alaikum,” they invoke Allah’s will or his mercy — and every time they do any of the above, they violate the law of the land. If they call their mosque a mosque, they become criminals. If they call their daily prayers namaz, as Muslims do, they risk imprisonment. Ahmadis have been charged with blasphemy for printing a verse of the Quran on wedding invitations.
Early this month, I saw Pakistan’s foreign minister, Khawaja Muhammad Asif, give an interview on television. He had just returned from a tour of the United States and had been accused of hobnobbing with Ahmadis while there. He was at pains to explain that he had never met an Ahmadi in his life. To prove his point, he said that once, while he was sitting in a restaurant in Islamabad, two boys came up to get a selfie with him. “I asked them, ‘I hope you are not Qadianis.’” The foreign minister and the show host shared a hearty laugh. I
called up my long-lost Ahmadi friend recently and the brief conversation that followed was full of blasphemies. He was acting all Muslim. “Assalam alaikum,” he greeted me. By the grace of Allah, he said, he still has a job. Sometimes, when people suspect him of being Ahmadi, he is thrown out of shops or business meetings. But Allah is kind, my friend insisted. His wife, a teacher of fashion design, still has a job at a university — though she doesn’t use the staff room because some people have become suspicious. The kids are doing well, thanks to Allah, but he has told them not to tell even their closest friends that they are Ahmadis.
He tried to make us both feel better: Thanks to Allah, it’s not as bad for us as it is for Shias. Look how many of them get killed for their beliefs. Pakistan was essentially created to protect the religious and economic rights of Muslims who were a minority before India’s partition in 1947. But since the country’s inception, we have created new minorities and keep finding new ways to torment them.

Days After Sentencing 3 Ahmadi Muslims To Death, Pakistan Wins UN Human Rights Seat

Kashif N Chaudhry
When posters abusing and calling for the social boycott of Ahmadi Muslims were plastered in a Pakistani village, four Ahmadis decided to remove them from their Mosque. In retrospect, it was a bad decision. Just five days ago, a Pakistani court handed three of them the death sentence for “blasphemy” (for tearing down “religious posters”). The fourth one? just a few days after his arrest, he was gunned down while in police custody.

Ms. Maleeha Lodhi, Pakistan’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, claimed Pakistan’s record of “promoting and protecting human rights” had been vindicated with the victory.
With the image of Pakistan in the world today, I felt a certain elated too. After all, Pakistan is my motherland. However, I know this election wasn’t remotely based on our human rights record. It pains me to admit that Pakistan has a depressing human rights record and is behind one of the worst religious apartheids of this age - the #AhmadiApartheid. Here is a snapshot: Denied Right to Self Identity: Pakistan continues to deny Ahmadi Muslims the basic right to self-identity. In 1974, then Prime Minister Mr. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, in an attempt to appease right-wing religious extremists, amended the country’s constitution to declare the Ahmadi Muslims a non-Muslim minority. The Second Amendment was an unprecedented move in recent world history. With its passage, Pakistan became the first State — and remains the only one — to judge the faith (or lack thereof) of its citizens. Pakistan’s passport application requires all Pakistanis to condemn the Ahmadi Muslims to be eligible for a ‘Muslim’ passport.
Denied all Religious Freedom: The discriminatory Second Amendment resulted in further restrictions on religious freedom with President Zia’s promulgation of the anti-Ahmadi laws shortly thereafter in 1984. Known as the Ordinance XX, these laws criminalize the daily lives of Ahmadi Muslims and impose a three year jail term for Ahmadis guilty of ‘posing as Muslims’. Thousands of Ahmadis have been jailed under these opprobrious laws for ‘crimes’ such as praying, saying the salam (Muslim greeting), saying the Kalima (Islamic creed), reading the Quran etc. These laws are a violation of the UN Human Rights Charter and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), of which Pakistan is a signatory.

Since the inception of these laws, over a hundred Ahmadiyya Mosques have either been sealed by the State, or burned down or forcibly taken over by extremist mobs.

Pakistan arrests Ahmadi Muslims for selling books. Turns blind eye to Mullahs who call for murder! 
Denied Freedom of Speech: Despite numerous attacks on Ahmadi Muslims (hundreds have been murdered since the passing of the anti-Ahmadi laws), not once has a representative of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community been invited to express the community’s views or state their grievances on air. And while the media regularly publishes and airs conspiracy stories that amount to hate speech and incite violence against the Ahmadis, the books published by the Ahmadiyya community are banned across the country. Numerous book-sellers and publishers have been jailed under the country’s blasphemy laws for hurting the “sentiment of the Muslims.”

Pakistan's Counter Terrorism Force arrests 4 Ahmadi Muslims for "excessive use of Quran, Hadith & Islamic terminology." 
Denied Right to Peaceful Assembly: While ‘Jihadist’ outfits are allowed to convene across Pakistan, the annual peace convention of the country’s Ahmadi Muslims has been banned since 1984. No government has lifted this ban since, despite repeated requests.
Denied Right to Vote: Ahmadi Muslims have been systematically disenfranchised for the last many decades and have been prevented from participating in the country’s electoral process. There was quite the anxiety recently in Pakistan when the clause that prevents Ahmadi Muslims from taking part in the electoral process was mistakenly omitted in the new electoral bill. The government was quick to issue an apology and reinstate the clause, assuring the right-wing majority that Ahmadi Muslims would remain disenfranchised.
Ahmadi Muslims in Pakistan are forced to live in extremely difficult conditions, with continued threats from religious extremists and militant outfits on the one hand, and the State and its apartheid laws looming over their heads on the other. Hate speech against the Ahmadis is commonplace (including calls for their killings) and associating with them in anyway invites the wrath of the extremist right-wing majority.

Take this for an example: When Pakistan’s Foreign Minister was recently asked why he took a picture with an Ahmadi Muslim during his recent United States visit, Mr. Khawaja Asif had to apologize and promised never to repeat the offense again. “Now I always ask people about their faith first before I take pictures with them,” he said in apology. Ms. Maleeha Lodhi is no stranger to this bias herself. Earlier this year, Ms. Lodhi deleted her tweet congratulating Mahershala Ali on his Oscar victory after finding out about his Ahmadi faith.

Pakistan’s attitude and its support of the discriminatory anti-Ahmadi laws is not fading by any measure. Pakistan’s Law Minister, Mr. Rana Sanaullah, recently reassured the country’s right-wing majority that Ahmadi Muslims will remain second class citizens until they voluntarily denounced their self-identity. In other words, the rights of Ahmadi Muslims were conditional to them denouncing their faith and identity.
“It is our duty to protect minorities of the country but for the Ahmadis, they will first have to stop claiming to be Muslims. There is no other way around it.” (Rana Sanaullah, Pakistan’s Law Minister, October 13, 2017)
This is not what Pakistan started as. Pakistan was founded on the very premise of minority rights protection. The founder of the country promised religious freedom, equal rights to all, and complete separation of State and Mosque.
“You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place or worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed — that has nothing to do with the business of the State.” (Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s first Presidential Address to the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan, August 11, 1947)
Pakistan’s persecution of Ahmadi Muslims is therefore a betrayal of the very founding values of the country.
Now that Pakistan has won a seat in the UN Human Rights Council, I hope the world will hold it to a higher standard and call for the repeal of the discriminatory Second amendment and the apartheid anti-Ahmadi laws. That would be the real victory for human rights, and for Pakistan.