Feminism · Medicine

Of Babies, and of Women

Don’t look like that. I know I’ve been gone for a while.  I was, um, reading. Yep, I took a break to read the fuck out of some books, and get that total that I wanted for this year’s list. Plus I felt I’d been prattling without knowing for far too long – I took a break to listen and learn, rather than talk and tell.

Of course, I was only able to find the time to do all this because my studies these days are pretty light. My current rotation, which will end in about ten days, is MNCH. That’s short for Maternal, Neonate and Child Health, and it basically involves us going around to community clinics and hospitals and getting a general idea of the problems faced by women and children in the alleyways of this bustling city. Pediatrics and gyne/obs are full rotations coming up soon, so the only real purpose of the MNCH rotation is to give us a picture of ground realities – nothing more, nothing less. Not a lot of studying involved either (plenty of time to plunder libraries 😀 hehe).

MNCH was interesting for me.  Truth be told – I love babies to bits.  Every child that comes into the clinic is a gem for me, a pretty bundle of love and happiness.  Yet at the back of my mind I know this is one more mouth for an already overburdened nation to feed. I also worry seriously about its future.

I mean, one child in ten in Pakistan never makes it to five years old. In fact, out of 1000 pakistani kids, 77 never make it to even their first birthday. Our country is one of the only 4 in the world where polio still abounds – there were over a hundred cases reported in 2011. And guess who polio affects? Thats right – kids under five.

Always supposing they do get past five, what lies ahead? With a country that spends several times as much on its defence than on education and health…half the children in rural areas never complete primary school. And then rising expenditures and unemployment – what future do these children really have?

Basically, I am in the unenviable position, you see, of loving babies to bits, but still wanting the general population to put a hold on making them. Yet ironic though it may sound, my love for babies is tied to a desire for population control. I mean, think about it.  In a limited population, every child that is added is a blessing and a boon.  But in our overcrowded nation, do we really have the resources to help each child?

I’ve only seen kids in urban areas, and yet so many of them are malnourished – tiny, helpless things – its so upsetting.  I shudder to think what the situation is like in rural areas :/

Population control is essential for each child to become valuable.  And yet how many women really want to go on bearing child after child? Surprisingly few, you know.  According to our own government statistics, about 24% of pregnancies are unwanted or mistimed. A quarter of pregnancies! Though the general impression is that women want babies, the truth is that they have very little choice in the matter.  Women want to delay or prevent conception, but they don’t use a method to do so.   They are either unaware of, or lack access to, or are forbidden from using contraception.

They can’t even decide about their own bodies.

This was illustrated most clearly to me when a friend of mine told me about how family planning services in certain parts of Pakistan were under considerable hostility, and how women would come to these people secretly for contraceptives, hiding from their husbands.

To some extent, this is the fault of the government in its provision of family planning services and awareness.  And yet to a larger extent this is reflective of society’s perception of women as baby-making machines – heaven forbid that they should not want to have a baby!

How do we change this? Well widespread contraceptive availability would help.  And that’s being provided (free of cost, in family planning clinics), although it still isn’t as effective or widespread as we want it to be.

Yet what is really needed, in my humble opinion, is women empowerment.  What kind of empowerment? Well, education for starters. And will that help? Heck yes it will! The average Pakistan woman has 4 kids (uff!). Stats show this rises to 5 when she has no education at all BUT it drops to 2 when the women has a high school education. If education levels alone are so effective, what wonders will a general empowerment work?

To conclude: Women need to be given, nay, to demand reproductive rights.  It’s their body, not a vassal for the continuation of the family name, not a machine for churning out delightful bundles of joy, not a limitless source of apples for grandparents’ eyes (who produced one too many apples themselves, I should say).  Until women have a say in deciding the size of families they themselves primarily have to care for, we cannot expect a generation of well-raised children to come to age.  When a quarter of the population is unwanted ‘mistakes’ then it’s hardly a wonder we’re not going anywhere.

Women’s liberation is tied to a lot of things.  Reproductive rights is one of the most important ones.  Until women alone can decide what to do with their bodies, we will never have achieved equality, here or anywhere in the world.

See you guys soon, I hope.  🙂


Ministry of health, GoP health facts

Unicef – Pakistan

Policies on unwanted pregnancies in Pakistan

2 thoughts on “Of Babies, and of Women

  1. But that is why they have heaven under their feet 😛 … Sawab milayga …akharat ki fikar karo duniya ki nahiN 😛 HAHA……

    Very valid points by the way.

  2. I always look forward to reading your posts, they never fail to brighten my day. Good to have Bakedsunshine back !

    Knowing that young students like you will bring such intelligence, compassion, wisdom and knowledge (in particular, of medicine) to these challenges makes me optimistic about the future, not only of Pakistan, but of South Asia in general.

    Regards and best wishes!

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