Tuesday, October 8, 2019
Officials said around 50 terrorists were present at each of the launch pads, and infiltration attempts were on to push as many across the border before winter begins.
Pakistan's population is expected to nearly double in 30 years. More education on family planning and reproductive health is needed to avert a catastrophe, say experts.
Shahida Soomro is a middle-aged woman in the town of Bhit Shah in the southern Sindh province. She's one of the more than 22,000 Lady Health Workers (LHW) in the province, serving a vital link between the community and the public health system.
On a warm afternoon, inside the courtyard of a two bedroom house, Soomro is surrounded by women of all ages discussing sexual and reproductive health.
Some young mothers, carrying infants and toddlers, look shy and uncomfortable. They are accompanied by their mothers-in-law or elderly aunts to do the talking. Everyone wants to learn how to avoid unplanned, frequent pregnancies.
Shahida takes out some boxes and illustrations to explain how contraceptives work. She shows them injections, pills and condoms, which are all available free of charge at the local government hospital. But getting everyone to accept her advice is not so straightforward.
"There are a lot of myths and misconceptions," she says. "Some women are afraid that it will make them infertile forever. Others think it is against their religion."
Shahida is not a trained nurse or a doctor. She says her job is to listen and reassure the women that they can take charge of their lives. "I am from the community. So they know me and trust me when I refer them to the hospital."
No trust in sex education
Sex education is taboo in Pakistan's conservative Muslim society. Fear of a backlash from Islamic clerics has prevented public awareness on family planning and reproductive health.
Access to contraceptives remains limited. Women who don't want multiple pregnancies are usually not allowed to make those choices. Experts say that family planning has failed to become a national priority.
In the last two decades, Pakistan's population has more than doubled, from about 130 million in 1998 to 208 million in 2017. According to the United Nations Population Fund, Pakistan ranks among the world's six most populous countries, along with China, India, the United States, Indonesia and Brazil.
At the current annual rate of 2.4%, the UN says Pakistan's population could reach 403 million by 2050. For a nuclear-armed country with a growing young demographic, shrinking economy and a history of military interventions, experts warn a disaster is waiting to happen. In response to the problem, members of Pakistan's civil society are taking action.
Civil society steps in
Established in the 1990s, Pakistan's Lady Health Worker program has provided a critical link to cover a wide range of maternal and child health services. It has been effective in running door-to-door campaigns and distributing contraceptives.
But the government-run program has suffered from a lack of training and funding. Community volunteers like Shahida are often not paid for months. Health workers are sometimes forced to resort to street protests to try and get the government's attention.
"It's not just about lack of funds, but a lack of political commitment to family planning," says Nadeem Shah, senior medical officer at a provincial government hospital.
In his experience, Pakistan's public health system "suffers from a lack of sustained, integrated approach." Shah says the system misappropriates public funds. "It's reflected in the overall failure of governance," he says.
But the apparent institutional decay has also led to unexpected developments. In Shah's small village in Pakistan's southeast, Bhanot, it has mobilized the community to look after its own welfare.
Under a not-for-profit Peoples Public Health Initiative (PPHI), community leaders meet twice a month to discuss access to family planning methods — both for women and men.
"The attitudes are changing, thanks to mobile phones and the internet," says Mohammed Musa Sial, a social activist. "There's a growing realization among men that family planning is a good idea and it is in their own interest. We can't wait for the government to come to our help. We have to help ourselves."
But if Pakistan is to defuse its ticking population bomb, community-led activism can only go so far. For change at a national scale, the government will have to take the lead, say observers.
The government of Prime Minister Imran Khan says it is committed to tackling the problem by allocating more funds. His government has talked about building a welfare state under the "Ehsaas" program, meaning empathy. It builds on social safety programs devised by previous governments by incorporating new initiatives on poverty alleviation, health and education.
Although the plan looks good on paper, critics say his government is too distracted by other issues — including a struggling economy, rampant corruption and the volatile situation in Afghanistan and Kashmir — to institute any meaningful reform.
However, experts say ensuring universal access to contraceptives is one thing that could potentially be a game changer for Pakistan's population problem.
A report released in September has found that about half of the 16.8 million married women in Pakistan do not use modern contraceptive methods.
The report, jointly produced by the US-based Guttmacher Institute and the Population Council in Pakistan, further points out that there are "an estimated 3.8 million unintended pregnancies each year, most of which result from unmet need for modern contraception."
"This study provides robust evidence that makes a case for investment in additional financing for family planning services in Pakistan," says Zeba Sathar, country director of the Population Council in Pakistan and co-author of the report.
Her research shows that Pakistan currently spends $81 million (€73.7 million) annually on contraceptives. But if the country were to double its spending to an estimated $173 million per year on modern contraception, it could prevent an estimated 3.1 million unintended pregnancies annually. That would translate into a decline of 82%.
Sathar has long argued that Pakistan can learn much from countries like Indonesia and Malaysia, as well as from those closer to home like Iran and Bangladesh. Through sustained efforts, these countries have brought their fertility levels under control. In Bangladesh, female literacy and family planning programs at the grass-roots level helped turn the tide.
Pakistan could also make strides on this front by eradicating child marriages, improving girls' education and empowering its women, say observers. Its leaders, they underline, just need to move beyond rhetoric to make family planning a national priority.
Without naming Pakistan, Ms. Tripathi said that the country covets the territory of others and camouflages its “vile intentions with fake concerns”.India has lashed out at Pakistan for “weaponising” women’s rights issues for self-serving political gains in Jammu and Kashmir, saying it is ironical that a country where violations of women’s right to life in the name of ‘honour’ go unpunished is making “baseless” statements about it in India.
First Secretary in India’s Permanent Mission to the UN Paulomi Tripathi during the UN General Assembly Third Committee session on ‘Advancement of Women’ on Monday asserted that from the first woman President of the General Assembly Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit to women scientists at the Indian Space Research Organisation, Indian women from have long served as inspiration for many.
“As we renew our collective resolve to continue to work towards the realisation of women’s empowerment and gender equality, there is no space for weaponising women’s rights issues through empty rhetoric for self-serving political gains. Today, one delegation has callously chosen to politicise this agenda by making unwarranted references to internal matters of my country,” she said at the Committee.
The Committee is one of the six in the UN General Assembly, deals with social, humanitarian affairs and human rights issues.
Ms. Tripathi did not directly name Pakistan, but was responding to references made to Jammu and Kashmir by Islamabad’s outgoing envoy to the UN Maleeha Lodhi, who in her speech at the Committee earlier said the women in Jammu and Kashmir were suffering due to the communication blackout in the state.
Ms. Lodhi had alluded to a picture of a Kashmiri mother that appeared on the front page of The New York Times along with an article about how the mother lost her son, who was bitten by a snake, as she could not get medical help on time.
Without naming Pakistan, Ms Tripathi said that the country covets the territory of others and camouflages its “vile intentions with fake concerns”.
“It is ironical that a country, where violations of women’s right to life in the name of so called ‘honour’ go unpunished, is making baseless statements about women’s rights in my country,” she said.
Ms. Tripathi said the international community still remembered that the “armed forces of this country” perpetrated dreadful sexual violence against women with impunity, in India’s immediate neighbourhood in 1971.“We still hear accounts of these gruesome violations at the annual high level general debate. We do not wish to engage further on this issue with a delegation with such credibility,” Ms. Tripathi said, stressing that the precious time of the UNGA Committee be better utilised to deliberate on the agenda before it.She said that despite significant progress made towards gender equality, women and girls around the world continue to face restrictions to access education, employment and political participation.
Women are still married as children, trafficked into forced labour and sex slavery and every day more than 800 women die from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth, Ms. Tripathi said.
She told the session that gender equality and empowerment of women were an integral part of India’s inclusive development strategy and New Delhi attaches utmost importance to representation of women in decision making positions.More than 1.3 million elected women representatives lead in formulation and implementation of public policies at grassroots level in India and measures such as financial inclusion, income guarantee programmes, cash benefit transfers, improved access to healthcare and education for women and girls have improved lives of millions, she said.More than 197 million women, who previously did not qualify to open bank accounts, now have bank accounts through government’s financial inclusion initiative, she added.
Highlighting other initiatives taken by the Indian government to ensure women empowerment and equality, Ms. Tripathi said ‘Stand Up India’ and ‘Mudra Yojana’ programmes promote women entrepreneurship by providing access to loans and cooking gas connections have been ensured to more than 80 million women leading to positive impact on their health, and reduced environmental degradation from using firewood. With a view to consolidating women farmers’ role, 30 per cent of the budget allocations are earmarked for women in all ongoing programmes in this sector and engagements with the community health workers enable women to take informed decisions about their reproductive health and access safe contraception, she said.