Call for educating society

Islamabad – Lack of human resource at district level in health sector is the biggest challenge while there is substantial need to educate society on women reproductive health rights.

Health Minister Saira Afzal Tarar stated this while presiding over a study titled “Strengthening Governance in Health System for Reproductive Health and Rights (RHR) in Pakistan: An Intervention Case Study” is based on the findings of a four-year intervention (2014-17) carried out in six districts across four provinces of the country with the support of International Development Support Center (IDRC).

The study was launched by National Commission on the Status of Women (NCSW), identifying the gaps and possible solutions for strengthening health governance for women’s reproductive health and rights.

The social structure and communication gap between government and society are the major hurdles for the awareness regarding women’s reproductive health, it revealed.  The minister urged to devolve culture-sensitive approaches and initiatives regarding women’s reproductive health and rights at district level.

Stressing the need for engaging men in advocacy efforts, the minister said, no law can be implemented if the society rejects to change its traditions and norms.

She termed lack of human resource the biggest challenge for health sector at district level. “There is no short cut to women’s empowerment and we need to educate them and aware them of their rights for substantial change,” she said.

The study presents evidence-based recommendations for improved equity, community participation and government responsiveness within health governance system for women’s reproductive health and rights in the country.

NCSW Chairperson Khawar Mumtaz talked about alarming indicators of health for women. “Health budget is doubled and donors have also been extending aid in health sector especially reproductive health but unfortunately we fail to achieve the results,” she said.  She announced to form a committee at the NCSW to formulate national framework for women’s RHR. 

Sharing the findings of the study, Executive Director (ED) ShirkatGah Farida Shaheed said the biggest obstacle in the way of women’s reproductive health and rights is the social mindset. “Girls are not supposed to discuss reproductive health issues. Even if reproductive health facilities are available in the locality, visiting such facility is considered a source of shame especially for girls. And when a girl reaches the facility, she doesn’t discuss her issue with the doctor directly. She is always represented by her family member,” shared Farida.

She said that at district level, people are more comfortable in visiting public health facilities but there are complaints of the discouraging and rude behaviour of health staff in such facilities.

Those who came in contact with public health facilities also reported sexual harassment by male staff.

The report recommends strong communication strategy by the government and civil society to create awareness on reproductive health issues and sensitize the health staff.

The report also suggests provision, repair and maintenance of medical equipment, better compliant mechanism, and display of code of conduct on sexual harassment at district health centres, refreshment courses and technical training for health staff.

Chairperson Provincial Commission on the Status of Women for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Neelum Toru recommended collaborative efforts and building connections to improve the situation. MPA Shameela Aslam talked about the social mindset that discourages women from utilising their full potential. She shared her experiences as a woman politician and the way she fought for her rights.

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