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Maternal health in Pakistan is more disturbing than bomb blasts

By Shahid Husain

Karachi: An impressive slide show titled “A photographic journey into the lives of Pakistani women” by Wendy Merijnessen” was shown at the PMA House on Saturday noon.

After a brief introduction by prominent gynecologist Dr Shershah Syed, the Belgian photojournalist presented her slide show on Pakistani women suffering from ill health, childbirth problems such as fistula and ill health, and left the select audience spellbound.

She covered the 2010 flooding in Sindh that displaced millions of people despite an early warning from international agencies.

I feel pride and take the honour to home,” she said, addressing the audience. “My photographic journey started with theatre and music,” she said.

Wendy Marijnissen is a freelance documentary photographer from Belgium. Intuition and personal interests have always played a major role in her work and naturally guided her to her subjects.

In 2008 she completed a long-term reportage in Israel and Palestine, using music to show a different part of daily life in this stressful and violent region. In the summer of 2009 she covered the East Jerusalem evictions and later that year went to Pakistan for the first time.

For the following three years Wendy worked in Pakistan focusing mainly on photographing the hardships of pregnancy and childbirth there. From fistula, traditional midwifes to a camp pregnancy after the devastating floods displaced millions of people in the country. Part of this work in Pakistan was used for the ‘End Fistula campaign’ of the UNFPA.

In 2012 she travelled to Afghanistan for the first time to document the lives of women in this war-torn country. A year later she worked with Doctors without Borders in Tajikistan on children with TB and in Belgium, she produced a series ‘Us/Them’ about Muslim women and the headscarf issues in her country. The project is a part of the European group project ‘The rise of populism in Europe’ produced by Fotodok.

She was a finalist for the Fotovisura Grant for Outstanding Personal Photography Project 2010 and received a honourable mention at the Photocrati Fund 2011 grant with her work ‘Every woman counts’.

In 2010 part of her work in Pakistan was used for the ‘End Fistula campaign’ of the UNFPA. She was a finalist in the Save the Children photo competition in 2012.

Wendy’s work has appeared in media like Le Monde, Arte, De Standaard, L’Express, De Morgen, De Tijd, The Jordan Times, Le Vif/L’Express, Worldpulse, The Eyes and Queries.

Referring to war-torn Afghanistan, she said she was not interested in soldiers and wars that was going on but in people.

My dream was to go to Pakistan. A friend of a friend who was a Palestinian invited me to Pakistan…I visited old streets in Karachi. Moharram was a totally different experience to me,” she said while the audience saw with awe the graffiti in the old city in Karachi and the Moharram procession.

Thereafter, she focused her attention on the maternal health and Dr Shershah Syed lent a helping hand.

It was all due to Dr Shershah that I got to know women health situation in Pakistan,” she made an acknowledgement.

I also went to the interior of Sindh where you see rural women. In 2010 the flood comes and 20 million people were displaced. How could our people understand this? The population of Belgium is 10 million. A lot of rural people here don’t have the concept of time,” she explained.

The slide show popped a picture of a new-born baby girl in Sindh. “Even though it was a baby girl her father was happy,” Wendy said.

To a question by The News whether she still had contacts of displaced persons since the 2010 flooding in Sindh resulted in a demographic change and for the first time in their lives rural folk who migrated to cities and towns saw schools and healthcare centres, Windy said she had lost all those contacts since they changed their cell phone numbers.

To me bomb blasts are not Pakistan; to me problems related to maternal health are Pakistan,” Wendy said as the slide show depicted a photograph of a labour room with Dr Shershah Syed.

The News