29 November 2022
On day five of our 16 Days of Activism against gender-based violence, we focus on the women’s health crisis. A crisis which according to the Global Gender Gap Index Report 2022, leads to Pakistan ranking at the bottom 143 out of 156 countries for female health and survival.
The level of women’s health in Pakistan is among the lowest in the world and compares unfavorably to that of women in neighboring South Asian countries. In Pakistan, one in every 38 women dies from pregnancy-related causes while in Sri Lanka, it is one in 230. This figures reflect a pervasive form of gender-based violence that operates not through action but through the neglect of women’s healthcare needs.
Women of reproductive age (15-49 years) in both urban and rural areas face multiple barriers to accessing their sexual and reproductive rights due to either lack of awareness, lack of healthcare facilities, or even because of the social and cultural stigma that delimits women’s bodily autonomy.
As noted by a world bank report, “High fertility and women’s poor health not only seriously reduce family well-being and productive capacity in Pakistan, but also the development potential of tomorrow”. According to the report, the state must strengthen the health system to better meet the needs of Pakistani women and advises a coordinated, reproductive health program to be administered by the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Population Welfare.
Improving women’s health requires expanded community-based family planning services and training and supporting health providers, especially in rural areas.
At the Asma Jahangir Conference session on “Population, Family Planning and Reproductive Rights” in October, speakers called for prioritizing healthcare for Pakistani women. As Zeba Sathar, Country Director of Population Control noted, “At the center of family planning are women and if women aren’t given contraceptive rights, there is a lack of intent to provide these services and fulfill objectives”.
Women’s health however remains a critical issue for the country. According to the World Health Organization, women’s health goes beyond mere medical ailments. It is “a state of women’s mental, physical & social well-being and not merely the absence of disease”.