KARACHI: After the remarkable success of ‘Agahi se Agay’, Rutgers WPF Pakistan has launched a follow-up project, titled ‘Awareness to Action’ — a programme designed to educate and empower women.
The latest programme by the NGO was launched at a ceremony at Pearl Continental hotel on Friday. The three-year project, funded by the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, is aimed to empower Pakistani women to be able to make their own decisions regarding sexual health and reproduction, with the ultimate goal to bring about a significant decrease in child marriages and teenage pregnancies.
Speaking at the occasion, the senior country adviser of the Packard Foundation, Dr Yasmeen Qazi, said, “The culture of silence in Pakistan keeps young people out of the loop regarding information that is very vital to them.” Women must have the power to make reproductive health decisions, she stressed.
“A third of Pakistani women are interested in family planning but do not have access to it,” she said. “In 2002 alone, there were 900,000 unsafe abortions in Pakistan. The dearth of women educated in these matters is a weak link in our development sector.” Dr Qazi was of the opinion that girls who had attended school even for a short time were more aware of their rights and less likely to marry young.
Qadeer Baig, the country representative for Rutgers WPF, explained that his organisation was consulting the community leaders in rural areas to make the programme effective.
By educating and training 650 “Kirans” as part of their community mobilisation plan, the organisation hopes to reach 650,000 girls with help from the Sindh Agricultural and Forestry Workers Coordinating Organisation and HANDS. “The programme is also known as Rang-e-Kainat. We want to create an enabling environment for women and are working to make the youth policy a reality in Sindh,” he explained.
Also at the event was Ali Gul Pir, of ‘Waderay ka Beta’ fame. “I am not an expert or even as educated as the rest of the speakers but I am a concerned citizen of Pakistan,” said Pir. “Pakistan will only prosper once we educate our women – our mothers, sisters and wives.”
Speaking of his hometown, Dadu, Pir said, “People in rural areas are not uncivilised [jahil] — they are polite and well-informed. They just need a chance and they need their own people to speak to them and educate them.”
The special adviser to the UN secretary general, Dr Nafis Sadik, claimed that the failure of family planning programmes in Pakistan was due to a lack of political will. “The ability to make decisions, especially for women, is crucial. Unless they know they have these rights, nothing can happen,” said Dr Sadik. “This mindset of women not having [sexual and reproductive] rights is everywhere, it is just more vocalised in countries like ours.”
She went on to say that men’s sexual behaviour was tolerated, and in some cases applauded, whereas women’s behaviour was strictly controlled.