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Monthly Archives: November 2012

Would a ‘male pill’ revolutionise birth control in Pakistan?

Published: November 18, 2012

As Pakistan’s population time bomb ticks, contraceptive pills for men might become a game-changer. DESIGN: SAMRA AAMIR

KARACHI: 

With the world’s sixth largest population, and growing faster than the top five, Pakistan needs to drastically rethink contraception and family planning.

Until now, conception has largely been a man’s decision in a patriarchal society like Pakistan’s, but usage of contraceptives, when allowed by men, has largely been a woman’s responsibility.

That dynamic, however, may soon be turned on its head by the advent of the ‘male pill.’

The ticking bomb

The country’s headcount ticked past 180 million on World Population Day, July 11, 2012, according to the Population Census Organisation of the Government of Pakistan, and is expected to reach 300 million by 2050.

Fertility rates have been halved to 3.42 births per woman, from historic highs of 6.6 all the way up to the mid 1970s, but contraception usage is restricted.

Only 30% of married Pakistani women, however, use any form of contraception, according to the Pakistan Demographic and Health Survey, 2007. The percentage of men who use contraceptives is much lower.

That may simply be because of the variety of contraceptive options available to women – from pills and coils to injectables and rings – compared to only one accessible option for men, condoms. Even for that there is a lot of resistance. Vasectomy, for its invasiveness and non-reversibility, is not a popular option. In Pakistan, attitudes are also influenced by Islamic teachings that discourage permanent methods of contraception.

“According to Shariah [law] contraception is allowed if there is a genuine reason. But the methods allowed should be temporary and reversible and should not harm the user’s health. The reason should not be ‘who will feed them’,” said Mufti Shah Tafazzul Ali of Darul-uloom Karachi.

A contraceptive for men that is safe, non-invasive and with reversible effects may sound too good to be true, but is already in the making.

Herbal pill

While both allopathic and herbal versions of an oral male contraceptive are currently under research, the closest to hit the shelves is the pill from Indonesia.

Made from the shrub justicia gendarussa, which is found mostly in the Papua Island, the pill “disturbs the enzyme system of spermatozoa and affects its function,” according to Professor Bambang Prajogo, who started research on the world’s first non-hormonal contraceptive pill for males in 1987 at the Airlangga University in Surabaya, Indonesia.

In simpler words, the active ingredient from the herb weakens the sperm, disabling it from penetrating an ovum. The pill’s effect, meanwhile, is not permanent. According to findings of Dr Dyan Pramesti from Airlangga University, who held clinical trials, men were fertile again just two months after they stopped taking the pill.

The pill has been tested on mice for years, and has shown to be safe, effective and with few side effects, Professor Prajogo had said in an interview to PBS in July 2011. Clinical trials on humans had already started by then and, according to Prajogo, had shown “impressive results.”

The Gendarussa pill is ready to hit the Indonesian market in 2013, but will have to be approved by the World Health Organisation before it will be widely available elsewhere. Right now, a small-scale herbal medicine company called Naturoz has started the pill’s production. Once approved by international health authorities, it can easily be exported to Pakistan.

Under research

The latest news of an allopathic male pill has come out of Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas.

Researchers discovered a compound, JQ1, that produces a rapid and reversible decrease in sperm count in mice.

According to a report from August 2012, the compound penetrates a boundary in the cells of the male testes and shuts off sperm development. The result is non-hormonal birth control that researchers said is entirely reversible. The research, however, is preliminary and clinical trials have yet to begin.

Revolutionising family planning

The idea of a male pill is being hailed by women’s groups, receptive males, and family planning advocates. The male pill would not only broaden the choice in contraceptives, but also change social attitudes towards family planning.

“Men being supportive, and involved in the choice, of a contraceptive method is the way forward. It would signal a behavioural change as currently men are generally a barrier to family planning,” said Dr Rehana Ahmed, a director at Greenstar Social Marketing, Pakistan and senior international health adviser to several NGOs.

“But behavioural change requires a process – pre-contemplation, then contemplation phase, and finally action. It is a slow process,” Dr Ahmed added.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 18th, 2012.

http://tribune.com.pk/story/467472/rethinking-contraception-would-a-male-pill-revolutionise-birth-control-in-pakistan/

 

In Pakistan, education is no shield against Violence Against Women

By Farahnaz Zahidi
Published: November 25, 2012

Educated, urban women also prone to domestic abuse; legislation continues to be stalled.

KARACHI: “I‘m 29, married and have a son, but whenever I look back, I remember my father as a man with rage in his eyes and a shoe in his hand, hitting my mother mercilessly,” recalls *Ahmer Ali.

“She clung to his leg, pleading that he let go, promising that she’ll never ask again why he was late from work,” Ali adds.

Ali’s father stopped hitting his wife, an educated, urban Pakistani woman, once Ali and his siblings grew up.  But the effects of the violence linger on in the family.

Ali confesses to having anxiety and self-esteem issues and has hit his wife twice in their three years of married life.

This is not an anomaly. According to psychologists, children who witness their mothers being hit are more prone to behavioral problems and are likely to repeat the cycle of violence with their own spouses.

Endemic violence

Ali’s story resonates with thousands of women in Pakistan who continue to face violence and abuse, as the world celebrates the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on November 25.

A report titled ‘Violence against Women (VAW) in Pakistan — a qualitative review of statistics 2011’ by the Aurat Foundation says, “Treating domestic violence as a private affair has given protection to perpetrators and has led to the victimisation of women.”

Women find themselves beaten and then threatened of divorce and more violence. The report revealed that a total of 8,539 cases of violence against women were reported in Pakistan in 2011.

Urban phenomenon

It’s not just uneducated women who suffer at the hands of violent spouses. A silent but large number of educated Pakistani women also go through this trauma.

“In some ways, the educated and rich woman is more of a coward. She has more to lose,” says Najma Khan, 42, who got a divorce four years ago and is now re-married.

“When I was thinking of leaving my husband, a foreign-educated man who’d hit me every few months without reason, my friends would tell me I would miss out on the social respect that marriage is giving to me. But I came to a point where it was no longer about social respect. It was about self-respect,” Khan adds.

Therapist Anees Fatima Hakeem at PNS Shifa, Karachi concurs.

“Any abuse is a form of punishment. It’s all about power and control. Even educated women get trapped in this is because the men are not abusive all the time. They can be very good providers and charming. Often, the woman blames herself. A common tactic for the guy is to behave like it never even happened, or tell her she was the reason it happened,” Hakeem says.

Domestic violence, however, not only affects a woman’s psychological health but also gives rise to long-term stress-related health issues like arthritis, hyper-tension and cardiovascular diseases.

“[My husband] feared it would become a police case, so he never let me see a doctor after I was beaten. I would feel abdominal tenderness and bleed from my mouth for days. I’m afraid my body has suffered long-term consequences,” adds Khan.

Violence against women takes many forms, including domestic violence, sexual abuse, human trafficking and traditional practices like female genital mutilation, dowry-related violence and honour killings.

The Aurat Foundation reported 1,988 murders or honour killings of women in 2009.

Investigations by the Ansar Burney Trust also shows cases of women seeking divorce or separation who were subject to mutilation, such as having their noses, ears and hair cut off by angry husbands.

Legislating against violence

Policy makers are aware of the numbers but policymaking is slow.

The lower house of parliament passed the Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) Bill in 2009 but it failed to make it past the upper house.

The bill was retabled in the Senate in February, 2012, but was met with a deadlock yet again.

After the passage of the 18th Amendment though, the issue has come under provincial jurisdiction.

Maliha Zia, a lawyer who is an expert on gender and law, says, “The Domestic Violence Bill in Sindh has moved from the Home Department and is with the law ministry. It’s been approved by the chief Minister for tabling in the Sindh Assembly. However, it’s waiting to be tabled.”

“Pakistan must prioritise prevention of violence against women not just on paper but in actual implementation, and pass a law on domestic violence with punishments for those who commit violence against women. It must focus on implementation of existing law and not allow perpetrators to get away. There must a policy of no tolerance of violence against women,” Zia adds.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 25th, 2012.

http://tribune.com.pk/story/470882/international-day-for-elimination-of-violence-in-pakistan-education-is-no-shield-against-female-violence/

Every few weeks & months, I re-visit this blog when my city bleeds at the hands of senseless violence. It is Muharram. And not just Karachi but my whole country bleeds. And I have just one single prayer right now – PEACE!

chaaidaani

I love Karachi. Period!
I was born here. This, to me, is home. This is where I belong.
Karachi is where the heart is.


To someone visiting Karachi for the first time, it would seem like a gigantic, unruly, chaotic, overgrown, terribly overpopulated metropolis with anger and impatience in it’s people’s traffic sense and a visible cloud of pollution over it when you land at Jinnah International. The pollution chokes you, literally, in certain areas. The load-shedding and electrical breakdowns are legendary. The compartmentalization and social disparity in Karachi is horrendous………we divide people into burgers and bun kababs, for God’s sake! We talk of people in terms of this side of the bridge and that side. People here are so busy and their lives are (no jokes ) so fast-paced that you gotta take appointments even to say hello! It’s a combination of a myriad of ghettos. And the ghettos are very guarded!! It…

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I am every woman

11th November 2012. It is the first day of the Thomson Reuters journalism training course for which I have flown to Barcelona, Spain. New continent. New world. New people. 16 hours – the time my journey from Karachi to Barcelona took. 16 hours ago was the Karachi, the Pakistan I am from. Never a dull moment in my country. Especially in the newsroom. Even more so in my life. I am surrounded by 10 other energetic, excited and interesting participants. Each a unique story. But the shoddy parts of Karachi, the humidity of that city I call home, and its problems and joys never leave me, even when I walk down beautiful pebbled streets of the picturesque Barcelona which is almost utopic in its serenity.

My facilitator and trainer is the amazing Mariane Pearl. The first exercise she gives us to write two paragraphs about what it means to me to write about women’s issues and what are my brief impressions after a chat with any two colleagues. Below are those two paragraphs.

I confess I have not grown up in circumstances of deprivation, gender bias or inequality. My father had his roots in rural Pakistan but I grew up as a young urban Pakistani in a very sheltered home, yet given enough independence to be able to spread my wings. I had no idea for the longest time that women in my country and in this world go through the atrocities that I covered as a journalist. Naivety broke with journalism coming into my life and my first feature I wrote about the plight of women inmates in the Karachi Central Jail. That’s when it hit me that women’s lives are complex, interesting and often the greatest stories. All I know is that I am a people-centred person – I love people. I want to know them, relate to them, empathize with them. My struggle remains whether I should be a journalist or a writer. I hope to be both. Because today as I sit down as one of 11 participants whom Reuters has graciously invited to Barcelona to teach us more about how to report women’s issues, my excitement is about stories! Our first exercise involved me sitting with Saraswati Sundas from Bhutan and Alexis Angulo from Mexico – both vibrant young journalists. I cannot wait to talk more with them. Blog about what all we shared. Our commonalities and our differences that make this world so beautiful. Alexis is breaking my bubble when I state defiantly that Pakistan is THE most dangerous place in the world for journalists. That doesn’t seem like that big a deal when he tells me that Mexico is second on the list. He is a proponent of legalizing drugs in Mexico. He explains why. Mexico has lost a hundred thousand people to drug wars in the last six years. Saraswati is talking about her modern urban friend who was not allowed to visit her parent’s home even when a death in the family happened by her UK-educated husband who beats her up. Human differences and commonalities! We bond. We relate.

I have recognized my trainer. It is Mariane Pearl. Wife of Daniel Pearl. Pakistan is where Daniel lost his life in the line of journalistic duty. Pakistan is where Mariane fought many battles. She knows Pakistan, I am thinking. She knows what it is like to report in a conflict zone….in a society polarized, yet with so much good coming out of its people, especially women. My experiences of life have taught me that women need a voice. I am neither anti-men nor a radical feminist. I am a woman and proud to be one. But any vulnerable group needs to have its voice heard. When a woman is beaten or denied her right of inheritance or when she doesn’t have the empowerment to earn or save her earnings, or when she isn’t given the chance to decide which form of contraception to use or at which age should she marry, someone needs to speak up for her or teach her to that for herself. I am her voice. And I am mine.

 

…Kis qadar jald badal jatay hain insaan janaan…

 

Ab ke tajdeed-e-wafa ka nahin imkaan janaan
Yaad kya tujh ko dilaaein tera paiman janaan

Youn hi mosam ki ada dekh ke yaad aya hai
Kis qadar jald badal jaate hein insaan janaan

Zindagi teri ataa thi so tere naam ki hai
Hum ne jaise bhi basar ki tera ehsaan janaan

Dil yeh kehta hai ke shaid ho fasurda tu bhi
Dil ki kya baat karein dil to hai nadaan janaan

Awal Awal ki muhabaat ke nashe yaad to kar
Be-piye bhi tera chehra tha gulistaan janaan

Aakhir Aakhir too yeh aalam hai ke ab hosh nahin
Rag-e-Meena sulag uthi ke rag-e-jaan janaan

Mudatton se yahi aalam na tawaqqu na umeed
Dil pukare hi chala jata hai janaan janaan

Hum bhi kya saada the hum ne bhi samajh rakha tha
Gham-e-Doraan se juda hai gham-e-janaan janaan

Ab ke kuch aise saji mefil-e-yaraan janaan
Sar ba-zaanu hai koi sar ba-garebaan janaan

Har koi apni hi awaaz se kaanp uthta hai
Har koi apne hi saaye se harasaan janaan

Jis ko dekho wohi zanjeer bapaa lagta hai
Shaher ka Shaher huwa dakhil-e-zindaan janaan

Ab tera zikr bhi shaid hi ghazal mein aaye
Aor se aor huwe dard ke unwaan janaan

Hum ke roothi hoi rut ko bhi mana lete the
Hum ne dekha hi na tha mosam-e-hijraan janaan

Hosh aaya to sabhi khawab the reza reza
Jaise urte huwe aoraaq-e-preshan janaan