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Nosheen takes the road less travelled to combat maternal mortality

KARACHIAccording to the Population Council data, around 2,800 women in Sindh die during pregnancies each year. In a place where several women lose their lives during childbirth, some of their more educated peers have put their best foot forward to reduce maternal mortality.

Nosheen Iqbal, who works as head of the control and command centre at Sindh Peoples Ambulance Service (SPAS), is the first woman to help deliver babies inside an ambulance. Over a period of one year, she has delivered around 78 babies and the survival rate has been 100%.

SPAS is a government organisation working in partnership with Aman Foundation. Nosheen is the only female supervisor of her unit of 12 staff members.

“Most of these women are aged between 18 and 25 years. I guide the women’s family members, who are inside the ambulance, on how to save the lives of the newborns,” she says. The supervisor adds that it takes more than an hour to get to hospital, so, in the meanwhile, she guides the family members on how to be helpful.

Iqbal has been working in this capacity for the last two years, providing life-saving services to locals. She ensures that the services are available to patients in three minutes. Her role also includes guiding staff members, including ambulance drivers and controlling centre executives.

In a society where women are commonly restricted to the domestic sphere, she has not only broken taboos by working at an office, but is one of the saviours of hundreds of people living in districts of Thatta and Sajawal.

Iqbal was born in Mirpur Bathoro and is currently pursuing a PhD in Development Studies from University of Sindh. She has also undertaken several courses on mother and child health.

Sharing her journey from a school teacher to SPAS, she says that around two decades ago, after her family faced problems related to women’s financial dependence on males, her father decided to raise his daughters to be financially independent.

Usually, most women give credit to their mothers for their success, but Iqbal says her father played a major role in her career. The 27-year-old says she grew up at a time when the women in her family were going through divorces, resulting in economic hardships. “I owe so much to my father, who despite my mother’s disapproval, supported us to study and later allowed us to work. He even moved to Makkli to enrol us into a school as my mother-in-law was strongly against studying at a school.”

Previously, Iqbal was teaching at a school and earning Rs2,500, but a few years ago she joined an NGO as a social mobiliser. “It was a great moment when my father took me to the NGO office where I had to live in a hostel on the first floor. I was the only female there among 25 men,” she recalled.

“On my first day at work, everyone stared at me from head to toe. In rural areas, it is still hard for people to accept that a woman can also work like a man. Unfortunately, they think women are the weakest part of society and are born to take care of the household,” she points out.

Talking about challenges for a working woman, the social worker bemoans that in Sindh, women don’t apply for jobs because there are no female toilets in a most offices. “When I joined SPAS, I was the only female. I launched a drive and encouraged girls to apply. Now we have three more girls working under my supervision.”

Rabial Gaho, who has been working as emergency medical despatcher at the SPAS for the last one-and-a-half years, told The Express Tribune that she has taken a lot of inspiration from Iqbal and her presence at the office gives her confidence and support. “Earlier, I didn’t know how to talk to men, but now I confidently deal with them.”

The Express Tribune