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How is coronavirus affecting family planning efforts in Pakistan

Obstacles to family planning

July 12, 2020

On World Population Day, a look at how the pandemic is affecting family planning efforts in Pakistan, where the healthcare system is already buckling under pressure

Photo courtesy: UNICEF

For Nusrat Bibi, short-term contraception methods had been the preferred choice, which she used to get from the healthcare centre near her village close to Renala Khurd in the Punjab. But as the Covid-19 pandemic struck, the resulting overload of information, misinformation and conspiracy theories made her choice difficult. “People say that if we go to hospitals, doctors will inject us with coronavirus. Also, I cannot go repeatedly to get condoms or pills. My only option now is to go for a method that provides me protection for a longer period,” says the 33-years old mother of six. She turned to Abeeda Shehbaz, a community midwife (CMW) in her neighbourhood, who has set up a makeshift clinic at her home as women in the village are now unable to go out for their medical needs, due to fear of contracting the virus and also due to a lack of mobility and finances. Nusrat now has a contraceptive implant that is placed under her skin in the upper arm, releasing the hormone progesterone into the blood stream, and providing safe prevention of pregnancy for the next three years.

While the pandemic has affected every aspect of healthcare ecosystems globally, it is relevant to observe on World Population Day how it is affecting family planning (FP) efforts, particularly in populous nations where the healthcare systems are already buckling under pressure. Population experts predict that by 2030, Pakistan’s population will swell up to 245 million, making it the fourth most populous nation in the world. According to the latest Pakistan Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) only 34 percent of currently married women are using a contraceptive method. In the year 2019 the modern contraception prevalence rate (mCPR) in Pakistan was recorded to be just 17.7 percent, according to FP2020. It is estimated that some 3,522,000 unintended pregnancies, 1,409,700 unsafe abortions, and 3,830 maternal deaths were averted due to this mCPR. A 1.5 percent decline in the number of women using modern contraceptives during Covid-19 may negatively impact some 1,263,000 women.

Dr Azra Ahsan, a gynecologist and obstetrician with a special focus on family planning and maternal health, confirms that women are avoiding visiting healthcare facilities and hospitals for deliveries or FP as they are scared of contracting Covid. “Many helplines have emerged as there are very few patients coming to outpatient departments (OPDs). This also might be due to lockdown and lack of public transport,” she says. With less than usual women coming to hospitals for deliveries, the opportunity of post-partum family planning (PPFP) is also lost.

“It is true that due to the pandemic, all healthcare facilities have been impacted adversely, including antenatal, postnatal, and FP initiatives,” says Dr Muhammad Imran, the Okara district coordinator for the Government of Punjab’s Integrated Reproductive, Maternal, Newborn & Child Health and Nutrition Programme (IRMNCHNP). Not just FP, even the nutritional status of would-be or new mothers has suffered due to the financial crunch people are going though, adds Dr Imran.

This is why the work of lady health workers (LHWs) and CMWs like Abeeda is critical. To tackle this challenge, government departments and organisations are going the extra mile and providing special trainings to them. “We are training LHWs and concerned healthcare persons about the SOPs regarding how to stay safe themselves, create awareness among communities, and simultaneously ensure continuity of activities related to FP and maternal health,” says Dr Imran.

“Now we mostly counsel them or follow up on their progress via phone or WhatsApp messages. If someone is in need of an examination physically or needs to have a procedure done, we call them to the small facilities in our homes,” says Abeeda, a Lady Health Worker (LHW).

According to Abeeda, service providers like her were initially confused, as a lot of their work is centred on one-on-one counselling as well as conducting awareness sessions in communities. “However, virtual training by Naya Qadam helped us, as did the personal protective equipment (PPE) like masks, protective gear and sanitisers they provided to us. Now we mostly counsel them or follow up on their progress via phone or WhatsApp messages. If someone is in need of an examination physically or needs to have a procedure done, we call them to the small facilities in our homes,” says Abeeda. Naya Qadam is a project led by Pathfinder International with five partners aimed at high-quality FP programming, working in three districts of the Punjab and seven districts of Sindh. During the pandemic, organisations like these, working hand in hand with the government, are critical.

One of the concerns is the protection and safety of the healthcare staff. This, along with addressing the fast-growing stigma around Covid-19, is a key challenge, according to Dr Tabinda Sarosh, Pathfinder’s country director in Pakistan. “Communities might lose faith in health facilities and are afraid that they might end up acquiring the infection from the facility. Providers are also in a state of insecurity, as well as inundated with work. This is bound to reflect on the quality of their work, and also take away time and energies from FP counselling and services,” she says, adding that FP services are still not declared as essential health services by the provincial governments. “A policy-level assertion is much needed to motivate and set up compliance frameworks for the time to come. While some FP-RH Covid-19 framework has been developed by the governments, implementation and monitoring is a long way to go,” she says.

Another obstacle is that supply of commodities essential for continuity of FP services has been hampered due to the pandemic. “Our biggest problem is the shortage of medicines and products we need for FP,” says Haseena Soomro, a lady health supervisor (LHS) from Shaikh Zaid Colony, Larkana. “Our work has decreased by 50 percent due to this pandemic. I have to convince both LHWs and the communities that if the SOPs are in place, we can still do the needful.”

Dr Sarosh echoes the concern, saying that long acting methods that women were using could soon go out of stock if expedited procurement plans are not put in place. For this, her organisation, along with the public sector, has expedited the response for commodity security to ensure continuity in FP services in the areas where they work.

Judging by the importance of LHWs and CMWs in this scenario, the need of the hour is a gender-equitable response to Covid-19, especially in the sphere of FP. As Dr Sarosh says, “Women, as it is, are a marginalised community in Pakistan, and FP as per DHS is in a stagnant state. Add to that the emergence of the pandemic and the disruption of services. This scenario calls for ensuring that women are at the centre of the policies that are being developed or implemented and their growing needs need to be responded to.”


The writer is a freelance journalist with a focus on human rights, gender and peace-building. She works in the field of Corporate Communications­

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The case of female home-based workers during COVID-19

June 14, 2020

Perhaps the worst-hit during the lockdown are workers in the informal sector. Among them, the women have taken a harder financial blow even than the men

For Farhana Naz, the biggest worry right now is that monsoon rains will start in July, and the roof of her house drips, but she has no money to buy her medicines, leave alone get her roof repaired. “I am a widow with one daughter, the sole bread-winner of my family. Apart from some philanthropists who gave us ration, I have no one to look towards for help,” says Naz, a home-based worker (HBW) from a shanty neighbourhood in Orangi Town, Karachi. Women in her area, she says, are not just unemployed but also too scared to step out of the house even to go to the doctor or a hospital if they are sick. “Coronavirus is a disaster; it has spread in my area. We have no food, no money and no work is coming our way,” she says. “We are waiting for all this to be over”.

In wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, Pakistan’s economy has suffered badly. The lockdown has disproportionately affected Pakistan’s small-wage earners. Out of them, workers in the informal sector are perhaps the worst hit. Among them, the women have taken a harder financial blow even than the men.

According to Iftikhar Ahmad, a comparative labour law expert and founder of the Centre for Labour Research, the total employed labour force in Pakistan is 62 million of which 24 million are in agriculture while 38 million are working in the non-agriculture sector. “The informal sector includes those enterprises which do not fall under the jurisdiction of labour law. Combine the informal sector (27 million) with the agriculture sector (24 million) and you get the ‘unprotected sector’ (51 million),” he says. The unprotected sector consists of all workers who do not enjoy the protection of labour law and where workers are not registered with the social protection institutions,” says Ahmed, adding that data regarding HBWs is based on International Labour Organization (ILO) reports which mention the number of HBW in Pakistan to be around 12 million.

“Pakistan’s informal economy comprises 74 percent of it, with a majority of women working invisibly as home workers, domestic workers, contract workers in factories, and labour in rural economy,” says Ume Laila Azhar, executive director of Homenet Pakistan, a network of organizations formed to raise awareness about the working conditions of female HBWs. Azhar adds that HBWs who are subcontracted by national and international supply chains report that they have not received orders for work or regular orders have not been renewed for months since the onset of Covid-19.

Four months ago, Fozia Bibi and the 80 other women from her neighbourhood she is a community leader for, were working and supporting their families. Post-Covid-19 and lockdown, there is no work, and no earning for the 80 households from Baldia Town, Saeedabad, in Karachi. From earning Rs 15,000 to Rs 20,000 ($90- $120) a month, Bibi, a single mother supporting her three children, is now earning nothing. “I had a routine. I had a life. The lockdown and coronavirus changed everything,” says Bibi who made a living by doing miscellaneous work for garment factories.

With the wages of HBWs having dwindled, their dependents too are suffering. “In my area, almost all women are working to support their families. Some are widowed or divorced. Others have husbands who cannot work because of illnesses. Many have husbands who are drug addicts. All these families are affected in a way we could not have imagined,” she says.

“Developing countries may not have the budget or the resources to afford balloon payment to workers of the informal economy. The workers themselves don’t have enough money to prepare for crisis either.”

“While male workers could still make it to the limited work opportunities, it was impossible for female workers to leave home because of closure of transport. During the lock down, some employers were operating secretly. Male workers were preferred on account of better mobility. There is also pressure on female workers from their families to not go out in situations of crisis,” says Zulfiqar Shah, the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (PILER) joint director, adding that because of disruptions in supply chains, work opportunities of HBWs have declined.

“Even when females are working with formal sector enterprises, they are working mostly without appointment letters or formal employment contractors. Hence, they were the first victims,” says Ahmad.

Azhar says that female workers from all sectors in the informal economy have been affected. Giving the example of the garment and textile sector in Karachi, she says that the industry and local markets are closed, the consumers are opting for just basic utilities instead of purchasing clothes, and the international market demand has declined. “In Pakistan where millions of women do piecework for national and international brands, work began to fall off in February as fears of the virus spread. Since many of the raw materials these workers rely on come from other countries, they were unable to get supplies early on in the global crisis or had to pay more for inputs. This affected those who produced garments as well as those who assembled electronics, games and other products,” says Azhar. Many HBWs were unable to stock raw materials before lockdowns began. “They might not have had time, storage space, or available cash to do so. This prevented them from using this time in isolation to amass products that they might sell once the lockdown was over.”

Relying mostly on philanthropists for rations that would help them get by these very lean months, some of them tried their hand at self-help. As a community leader, Fozia Bibi had introduced the idea of putting in some spare money in what can be called a collective community fund, for rainy days. Even if very small amounts were added, the savings helped this group of women buy rations for those in dire need for the initial weeks of the lockdown. But now all petty savings have run dry.

“The informal economy is particularly strong in developing countries,” Ndaya Beltchika, Lead Technical Specialist, Gender and Social Inclusion for IFAD (International Fund for Agricultural Development), said recently while addressing journalists from various countries. “Developing countries may not have the budget or the resources to afford balloon payment to workers of the informal economy. The workers themselves don’t have enough money to prepare for crisis either.” Beltchika suggested that the governments could repurpose some investments in order to come up with plans that can at least provide basic necessities to these vulnerable citizens.

“There should be an unemployment fund for women who have lost jobs. They should be paid from this fund till normalcy returns,” suggests Shah.

The solution, according to Ahmad, is making social protection a fundamental right. “The state can initiate contributory social protection schemes for all workers, irrespective of their employment status or type of sector they are engaged in (formal or informal),” he says, adding that provision of social protection, especially when it is financed by contributions by the beneficiaries in the form of premiums, is not that costly since not everyone is accessing benefits at the same moment. “Covid-19 is an extraordinary situation and drained resources from even the best-funded social protection systems. Therefore, it depends more on the will of the state rather than on financial resources.”

https://www.thenews.com.pk/tns/detail/671633-the-case-of-home-based-workers?fbclid=IwAR17VIJL73UZwjZBm3GaJfvZ6tJ1RW60HZwi-HSLbTtsr9fLfxs1c6JYqRs

NON-FICTION: MAESTRO ON MAESTRO

Poetry has textures and feeling. And the greats of poetry have lent textures to their words that are felt the moment you hold their compilations in your hand, or read those oft-quoted lines in moments of inner silence. Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s imagery is almost silken, even when he uses difficult and piercing words such as nashtar [lancet]. Mirza Asadullah Khan Ghalib’s words, on the other hand, are faintly granular, subtle yet abrasive, and layered — as are the ideas behind his words laden with deeper meaning, Farsi derivatives and a timelessness exclusive only to Ghalib. Perhaps this unique texture of his poetry is where Ghalib crosses paths with the texture of the art of Syed Sadequain Ahmed Naqvi.

The work in focus for review is a collection of 47 folders weighing almost five kilogrammes — heavy not just in terms of its physical volume. There is a lot to take in, as it features 43 of the 50 paintings that make up Sadequain’s ‘Ghalib’ series. Titled Ghalib: Call of Angel, this collection was compiled and published as a commemoration of Ghalib’s 150th death anniversary. It has a distinct texture, perhaps by deliberate design of the compilers — the folders are separate and individually complete, yet are bound by thematic cohesion. This allows the reader the choice to pick up one and reflect on it for a day, or days, or pick an irresistible one after the other and turn it into a marathon of reading a choicest selection. The paper is hard and heavy, yet smooth — suited to the texture of Ghalib’s poetry — and solid enough to carry the weight of Sadequain’s artistic renditions.

Compiled and authored by Sibtain Naqvi, the book has been published by Mutbuaat-i-Irfani and this is the sixth book that the publishing house has produced. All six books have centred on the life, times and works of Sadequain. The translation of poetry has been done by none other than the renowned Ghalib translator Dr Sarfaraz K. Niazi.

A compilation of Sadequain’s artistic interpretations of Mirza Ghalib’s poetry delights

The third folio has a sketch of Ghalib’s person by Sadequain, alongside the famous poem Allama Muhammad Iqbal wrote, lauding the prowess of Ghalib. As Iqbal accepts in a line from the poem:

Lutf-i-goyai mein teri humsari mumkin nahin

[Matching you in literary elegance is not possible]

Images from the book
Images from the book

The fourth folio is a brief write-up in Urdu by Faiz Ahmed Faiz, where the inimitable Faiz explains why Sadequain deserves to translate Ghalib into his art, and in the last line gives a testimonial to both Ghalib and Sadequain by saying, “Ghalib ke ashaar ki musawwari Sadequain ke fann ka haqq hai” [An artistic rendition of Ghalib’s poetry is the due right of Sadequain’s art].

This fourth folio is perhaps the only one where a painting of Sadequain is by another artist, Haider Ali.

The fifth and sixth folios include calligraphies of Ghalib’s poetry by Sadequain. It seems Sadequain put his heart into these particular calligraphic renditions, very aware of the power of what he was depicting.

There onwards, it is Sadequain’s artistic depictions of selections from Ghalib’s poetic works. The selections — from both Ghalib’s poetry and the complementing art of Sadequain — are matched so judiciously that it seems like a careful slice from the work of these two has been selected and married in a way so as to give a taste of the many facets of their work. Some of the couplets seem to have touched Sadequain so deeply that they have elicited not one, but two works of art from him, as if the artist felt one was not enough to do justice to it. The compiler and author has dealt with this sensitively and the result is a book that is unmissable by lovers of Ghalib and Sadequain.

In folder 13, the words have the timelessness so typical of Ghalib, where he expresses the dilemma of one trying to walk the tight rope of balancing between love and mundane worldly concerns:

Go main raha raheen-i-sitam-ha-i-rozgar
Lekin tere khayaal se ghaafil nahin raha

[Though I remained involved in managing the tyrannies of living, I was, however, never oblivious of your thought and memory]

Possibly, Faiz was inspired by the sentiment when he wrote “Kuchh ishq kiya kuchh kaam kiya…” [I loved a little and also did some work]. Juxtaposed opposite this verse is an oil-on-canvas painting which Sadequain created in 1969, showing a man bent under the weight of earning a living by carrying heavy wood logs, yet having enough strength to have kept alive an element of romance in him, holding a flower close enough to breathe in its aroma.

Another example of one of the verses where Ghalib wrote about man’s existential condition spanning over the past, present and future is in folio number 27:

Sab kahan, kuchh lala-o-gul mein numayaan ho gaeen
Khaak mein kya sooratein hongi ke pinhaan ho gaeen

[Not all, only a few have become evident as tulips and roses What images may lie in the dirt that remain hidden from us?]

Sadequain, a great in his own right, calls himself “Banda-i-Mirza Asadaullah Khan Ghalib” [follower/servant of Mirza Asadullah Khan Ghalib] in the 47th folder, the striking and fitting Addendum, where the right-hand side presents a black-and-white photograph of Sadequain showering flowers on the grave of Ghalib alongside Zaheen Naqvi, who was then the secretary of the Ghalib Academy in Delhi. The left-hand side of the folio has what are perhaps scribblings of Sadequain as he calligraphs impromptu some of his favourite lines (not couplets) from Ghalib’s poetry, ending the page with giving himself many self-proclaimed titles, the last two being Baykal and Baychayn, both almost synonyms, meaning uneasy and restless.

Such was the temperament of the works of Sadequain — peace within restlessness, order within chaos, faces defined by his typical sharp, angled strokes, but the overall impact made whole by some softer maestro strokes. This contradiction is perhaps one other similarity between Ghalib and Sadequain, then. While much of Ghalib’s poetry is clearly inspired by the love of the Beloved, he was a man who simultaneously gave in to human temptations — gambling and consumption of alcohol being the most well known. As Naqvi writes in the introduction about him, Ghalib was “equally at ease at the king’s court or the gambler’s den, he was aware of both his poetic genius and his disreputable ways. Rather than put people off, it is this disrepute or badnaami that endears him to the general masses. The man on the street loves a flawed genius.”

The reviewer is a Karachi-based journalist, editor and media trainer; human-centric feature stories and long form write-ups are her niche

Ghalib: Call of Angel
By Sibtain Naqvi
Mutbuaat-i-Irfani, Karachi
ISBN: 978-969792700
188pp.

Published in Dawn, Books & Authors, July 5th, 2020

https://www.dawn.com/news/1566957?fbclid=IwAR330X7T01cAlyH4EEk4vO0g2gWmls_sFzrOL6tjOkdTMgKc2pucF72vIdg

#CovidDiaries: The learning curve

Farahnaz Zahidi

April 5, 2020

Reflections on living in times of coronavirus

Plan B: I’m trying to organize a work-related trip. The work plan is made. The invites are sent out. The participants have confirmed. But I have a nagging feeling that this might be postponed. I’m still attending meetings, still going out to meet family and friends. As a journalist, it is my default setting. Wuhan is in my news alerts. Till now, people are thinking it is something limited to China. “We are safe” is the global sentiment. But news has started circulating about the prevalence increasing. I’m late to the party, but I have now learnt its name: COVID-19. Three days later, we are onto Plan B: Postpone all meetings and interviews indefinitely. My feature stories will now have to rely on phone-based interviews, unless unavoidable. PSL matches also have a Plan B now: play in the stadium but have no live audience. My Quran classes are indefinitely called off. The world is in Plan B mode. Or Plan C.

Change: News of transmission through zaireen (pilgrims) returning from Iran via Taftan is creating ripples of panic. The first case in Karachi has surfaced, yet Karachiites are still chilling. Everything seems normal, except that the grocery stores are unusually crowded; bulk shopping is the first sign of collective panic. The prospect of not just hunger, but the idea that we may not get to eat what we like when we like, is causing the panic in upper-tier Pakistanis. At a lower social rung, daily wagers are hoping for just basic needs being met. Business is slow. Dollar is rising. Financial hawks are buying shares. Schools are shutting down. There is news that they are not allowing tawaaf around the Ka’aba. Husband is praying at home on a Friday. I am not prepared for this. But it’s happening.

Behind the mask: Masks are not available in any pharmacy. They have put up print-out posters outside: “Sorry, masks not available”. Husband manages to get locally made masks for us. They are flimsy and clearly made in a hurry. I still feel very grateful to have one. It is my passport to going out although I’m not sure it actually protects me. I am nagging my house help to wash her hands. Her response is a quizzical look. Two days later, she has been initiated to the idea of an invisible killer called “Corona”. She is washing her hands regularly now, but not obsessively, unlike me. My hands are sore from repeated washing. I have a variety of sanitizers now. A few days later, she has left for her village. The fear is permeating all strata. This is getting real.

It isn’t easy living in semi-isolation. Life has lost its spontaneity.

Physical Distancing: I am getting hundreds of Whatsapp messages daily. I try to read them, thinking there might be something useful. I give up soon. Although there are some useful things hidden in the multitudes of forwards, most of them are either conspiracy theories, or videos of patients in Italy, or badly written clearly fake news snippets. I feel worse every time I read any of them. The memes sometimes help me feel better, and sometimes sound insensitive. I don’t know any longer what to feel. Sad? Scared? Anxious? The only messages that make sense are from charity organizations or individuals helping alleviate people’s miseries by distributing ration, asking if I want to contribute. Charity is Pakistan’s saving grace. The best messages are personalized ones – someone asking how I’m doing, or sending prayers. The rest are all white noise. Daughter gives a brilliant suggestion: we call one person every day. I’ve started calling friends and relatives. It’s good talking to people one-on-one after ages. I prefer “physical distancing” to “social distancing”.

The cough: I wake up with a cough. I have body ache. I am so scared, my heart skips a beat, and I can’t breathe. I have checked my fever a dozen times. People I actually know, abroad, have told me they have coronavirus. The killer has a face now. I’ve been at home for more than a week, except a stroll outside the house after dinner on a deserted street since the lock down. No happy motorcyclists whoosh past anymore. Leave alone eating out, even riders cannot be seen on the streets, delivering consumerism in styrofoam food boxes. Then how could I have gotten it? My doctor friend says it doesn’t sound like coronavirus. I am relieved… for now, but still scared. Everyone is scared. Bleach. Door knobs. Vitamin C. Nigella seeds. Take off shoes at the entrance. My vocabulary is growing exponentially, so is the number of those affected by the virus.

Epiphanies: Meetings and classes are on Zoom now; adaptability is a human strength, I’m rediscovering. My feel-good factors are changing. I’m tempted to order some clothes for Eid from Pakistan Day sales online. But what is Eid going to be like this time? I already have so many clothes.

Self-reflection is routine now. Audio books are helpful. A book in hard-copy is back at my bedside. We are mopping and washing, grateful we are able to do it ourselves. The baking tray is out after ages. It isn’t easy living in semi-isolation. Life has lost its spontaneity. You can’t step out when you like. Life is more basic. We are moving from wants to needs. But acceptance is finding its way in. Humanity is becoming more of a fraternity; nothing bonds people more than shared pain. “Things” seem inconsequential when you hear of people dying; when you’re witnessing the plague of this era, and when healthcare saviours are risking their lives at the front-lines. What does it matter who won that argument on Facebook? What does it matter what someone said to me four years ago? What does it matter what anyone thinks of the car I drive? In the bigger scheme of things, what does actually matter? Being safe, healthy, content, with your loved ones, and accepting your vulnerability, yet reaching out only to The Creator. Perhaps that is the biggest takeaway of COVID-19.

https://www.thenews.com.pk/tns/detail/638842-coviddiaries-the-learning-curve?fbclid=IwAR3oyv5oDN1Jhm4_ddw2Oxt42YmgoI_UJuLMX-ALdyP2IbRFw1TH_9MMfW8

Campaigns against gender-based violence

Published: December 8, 2019
PHOTO: FILE

PHOTO: FILE

KARACHI: “Sindh has a number of very good laws pertaining to gender-based violence and rights of women, but implementation has always remained weak,” said Legal Aid Society associate director Maliha Zia Lari, talking to The Express Tribune after moderating a panel discussion at the “Provincial Consultation on Implementing Laws on Rape, Sodomy and Sexual Abuse.”

As activists the world over push ahead with the annual international campaign “16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence” that kicked off on November 25, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, and ends on December 10, Human Rights Day, concerned individuals and organizations are sitting down to discuss what can be done to make life safer for Pakistan’s vulnerable populations, particularly women and children.

Fight against gender-based violence stressed

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Sindh office organized the discussion in Karachi as part of a series of campaign events. Aiming to initiate discussions around understanding the changes and procedural amendments in laws relating to rape, sexual abuse and sodomy, UNFPA’s representatives reiterated their commitment to the elimination of all forms of gender-based violence. This year’s theme for 16 Days of Activism, “Orange the World: Generation Equality Stands against Rape!” resonates with this commitment.

Focusing on the role of government departments and institutions in the implementation of laws relating to the subject, experts such as police surgeon Dr Qarar Abbasi, Sindh Muslim Law College principal Justice (retired) Ali Aslam Jafri, DIG Investigation Javed Riaz, Sindh women development department secretary Alia Shahid and Sindh Commission on the Status of Women chairperson Nuzhat Shirin discussed how implementation could be made possible and how laws could be further refined.

Courts for gender violence cases to start on Nov 4

Between 2006 and 2017, there have been several amendments to the law relating to rape and sexual abuse. According to UNFPA representatives, these amendments have created a legal framework with differing definitions and punishments for rape based on sex, with life imprisonment or death for aggravated circumstances. Yet there is little awareness of the changes amongst the people and the key actors in the criminal justice system. For effective implementation of the law, each actor such as the police, medico-legal officers and the judiciary need to reform their operations.

Farhat Parveen, the executive director of National Organization for Working Communities proposed that women should be hired in larger numbers to deal with sexual violence cases and should be provided with all the basic necessities to carry out their work. Pitching suggestions for improvements in the implementation of the law, she advocated for the inclusion of transgender issues in the body of law and exemplary punishments to eradicate sexual violence, adding that out of court settlements should not be allowed for offences such as rape.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 8th, 2019.

https://tribune.com.pk/story/2113665/1-unfpa-campaigns-gender-based-violence/

The case for health insurance

 

December 22, 2019

At the government and the individual level, Pakistan is warming up to the idea of health insurance with the government creating systems for underprivileged beneficiaries and citizens realising the importance of having a plan B in case of an illness

Inflation does not only affect the cost of using tomatoes in the curry or air conditioning in summers. It also affects our choices when it comes to health. Can I procrastinate on this blood test? Must I go to a specialist? Why can’t I just look up my symptoms on Google and buy off-the-counter antibiotics? If the gall bladder pain is not killing me, let us delay that surgery. These questions are ones most citizens ponder over.

Pakistan has begun realising – both at the governmental and individual levels – that it is time to move towards the idea of health insurance. Not only is the government moving towards creating health insurance systems for underprivileged beneficiaries, but citizens too who have realised its worth and have begun looking at health insurance as saving that gives them a plan B in case of an illness. In addition, organisations especially in the corporate sector are now, more than ever, giving their employees the health insurance. Universal Health Coverage day fell on December12, an apt occasion to take a look at this emerging trend in Pakistan.

Health Insurance in the Public Sector

Sehat Sahulat is a flagship programme of the Ministry of National Health Services Regulations and Coordination, and participating provinces. It is a social health protection initiative, working to provide financial health protection to poor families in order to prevent them from falling into extreme poverty because of extra-ordinary health care expenditure. For doing so, each enrolled family is provided with free of cost health insurance to access indoor health care services from empanelled hospitals.

The Sehat Sahulat Programme started in January 2016. To date almost 5.9 million families have been enrolled; the programme has been implemented in more than 75 districts across Pakistan, Sehat Sahulat is a public sector project, funded by the Government of Pakistan (GoP) resources. The federal government is paying of the premium for ICT, GB, AJK, newly-merged districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, district Tharparkar, and persons with disabilities, overseas Pakistani labourers, and members of the transgender community.

“Health is a human right; Universal Health Coverage (UHC) day which falls on December 12 is a very important day as it enables us to draw attention to the importance of health coverage. UHC is the most powerful policy lever through which we can achieve this,” says Dr Sania Nishtar, the special assistant to the prime minister on social protection and poverty alleviation. She explains that when one talks about health coverage, one has to be mindful that it refers to three things — geographic coverage, financial access to health care, and healthcare quality.

“It is important to realise that that health care costs are most impoverishing for people, and therefore it is critical to ensure financial access to healthcare so that people are not pushed into poverty as a result of healthcare expenditures and do not forego healthcare because they cannot pay,” she says, adding that social protection is a very important policy tool to enable financial access to healthcare.

“Within the Ehsaas umbrella, there are a number of interventions. One of those is Tahafuz which is the social protection arm of Ehsaas to ensure financial access to healthcare. We hope to begin operations in early 2020 and plan to scale it up nationally,” says Dr Nishtar.

“Health is a human right; Universal Health Coverage (UHC) day which falls on December 12 is a very important day as it enables us to draw attention to the importance of health coverage, says Dr Sania Nishtar

A representative of the Punjab Health Initiative Management Company (PHIMC) explained how the government-supported health insurance programme is working in the Punjab. While it is very much a health insurance setup, the beneficiaries do not have to pay anything; instead, the government pays the premium on their behalf. The coverage has recently been expanded from 13 to all, 36 districts of the Punjab.

There are some crucial exclusions when it comes to health coverage. Mental health treatment and dental treatment coverage for example are limited. However, expensive and long-term treatments like treatment for cancer, dialysis, and surgical procedures like bypass for cardiac disease are covered.

“Up till now government-supported health insurance programmes in Pakistan have only targeted underprivileged, citizens but over time we will have to include people from the middle-tier economic strata as well who can partially pay the insurance premiums,” said the PHIMC representative.

Health Insurance in the Private Sector

Dr Harris Shahzad, an eye surgeon and one of the directors at Shahzad Eye Hospital in Karachi, says that his hospital does get a lot of insurance-covered patients.

“The insurance usually does not cover OPD charges or investigations. They do cover surgical procedures, but give preference to ‘admission/inpatient’ rather than day care, which most eye care centres are. We usually do between 15 and 30 cases a month that have insurance-coverage for eye surgery,” says Shahzad. He says that insurance-covered patients have discounted rates at hospitals, and also cover major surgeries like treatment for a retinal detachment. “There’s always a cap on how much funds they can use depending on what company they are using or how much they have used on other specialties as well.

The emergence of a financial product supermarket like Smart Choice that enables people to compare between various insurance choices available and make informed decisions, shows that Pakistan is moving towards insurances. Health insurance is one of the key areas in this regard. Working with key players in the field of insurance, it is a one-stop shop for insurances. “For the longest time, Pakistanis were not aware of the difference between life insurance and health insurance. Awareness has increased. Comparative online platform have a lot to do with this,” says Majid Shah Bukhari, head of sales and operations at Smart Choice.

He says now people are also buying health insurance privately “for their peace of mind. It is easier to pay Rs 1,500 per month, for example, and know that you have treatment coverage up to Rs 500,000 for an unforeseen illness. In this era of inflation, illness of one family member can throw off your budgeting for years and leave you in debt. Health insurance saves you from that”.

Bukhari says that a lot of expats buy health insurance for their aging parents, and newlywed couples buy it to cover maternity expenses. There are also insurance plans available for illnesses like cancer.

The umbrella of choices for health insurance policies has become wider. “Shariah-compliant insurance policies (Takaful) are also available now, alongside conventional insurance,” says Bukhari.

“Health insurance provides a backup for unforeseen circumstances; it is like a compulsory saving,” says Dr Rukhsana Shahid, a general physician, who has been evaluating patients for fitness for life insurance policies since 1985 at Shahrukh Clinic which she founded.

“The cost of living has increased so we see fewer individuals buying insurance as they don’t want to spend that extra bit for insurance every month. The same applies to health insurance. However given the cost of medical care, it is inevitable that Pakistanis will have to move towards health insurance.”


The writer is a freelance journalist with a focus on human rights, gender and peace-building. She works in the field of Corporate Communications

Women should leave the hospital with a contraceptive

Pakistan must ensure that women are included in the family planning process

 Published: September 26, 2019

An Internally Displaced Pakistan woman from the North Waziristan tribal region carries her sick child. PHOTO: AFP

By Farahnaz Zahidi

Her backache is better, and she is feeling relieved for more than one reason. An hour ago, Azra got an Intrauterine Contraceptive Device (IUCD) which she calls a Challa (ring) inserted, with her own free will; the IUCD will potentially give her a break of five years from conceiving a child. This 30-plus years old mother of three, who does not know even her own exact age, knows well now that to remain healthy to look after her three children, and to possibly give birth to healthy children in the future, her body needs a break. Azra had come to the Naudero Rural Health Centre (RHC), District Larkana, Sindh, complaining of bleeding since eight days. This was her second miscarriage. The medical staff, after an ultrasound, told her she had been pregnant since nine weeks and her pregnancy could no longer be sustained. As her dilation and curettage (D&C) was performed, she also got the IUCD inserted. “My husband did not want me to use a permanent method of contraception as we may want to have children after a gap of some years,” she said. Muhammad Panjal, her husband, and Azra herself, mutually decided to go for a long-term contraceptive, an IUCD in their case. “One of our focuses presently is to encourage women to go for long-term contraceptives, like we did for Azra,” says Naghma, working for Pathfinder as a Technical Supervisor for the district of Larkana for Family Planning (FP) related initiatives. Azra is all praise for the staff at RHC who made her understand what was best for her and her family. “We counsel the patients mostly during the antenatal visits; this gives us enough time inform them about the various choices of contraceptives, their benefits, as well as side-effects if any. The decision, then, remains with the patient; she chooses, after discussing with her family, the FP method best suited for her,” says Dr Erum Siyal, working at RHC Naudero.

Dr Siyal explains why Post-partum family planning (PPFP) is a key focus for FP in areas like Naudero. “Once they leave the hospital after delivery, they rarely come back. Reasons are many. Lack of mobility, lack of resources to pay for transport to reach the hospital, lack of awareness – these are all deterrents,” she says.

Dr Azra Ahsan, a gynecologist and obstetrician with a special focus on family planning and maternal health, terms the focus on PPFP as being “extremely important’, adding that it is all the more important because the Contraceptive Prevalence Rate (CPR) is insufficient for effective family planning, which means people are not using enough FP methods. “The silver lining, however, is that women are coming to health facilities to have their babies in increasing numbers. This is a moment to seize and an opportunity not to be missed,” says Ahsan.

Grass root level initiatives like Naya Qadam, implemented by Pathfinder International, have an increased focus on access to post pregnancy family planning. Naya Qadam is a consortium of six organizations – Pathfinder, Aahung, Greenstar Social Marketing (GSM), National Committee on Maternal and Neonatal Health (NCMNH), IPAS and Shirkat Gah – working in six districts of Punjab and Sindh provinces. The objective is to increase access to high quality PPFP with a focus on young women (age 15-24) in Sindh and Punjab. Naya Qadam is introducing a multi-sectoral, counseling-centered, integrated life cycle approach to post-pregnancy service delivery. It aims to lessen the widening gap between service availability and unmet need by upgrading lady health workers, community midwives, and lady health visitors’ (LHVs) capacity to offer services through redesigning antenatal care as a lever for taking full advantage of the postpartum moment to offer FP.

Women like Azra go back to their villages after getting contraception, and become informal activists of FP, convincing their female friends and relatives to do the same. According to Dr Siyal “the awareness has increased and continues increasing at a fast pace”.

57-years-old Salma John from Jamshed Town, Garden East Karachi, has been working as a Lady Health Worker (LHW) since 2003. “Contraception should be carried out within 24 to 48 hours after delivery or DNC, and within ten minutes after the placenta is expelled. That is the best time to do it, otherwise most women do not come back for follow up.” John shares that condoms and pills still remain the most popular methods of contraception. Examples of modern methods include the pill, intrauterine devices, implants, injectables, and condoms. “With the help of Naya Qadam’s training sessions, we learn something new every time,” says, John, explaining how LHWs stay abreast with the latest developments in the field of FP. Each LHW, in John’s area, covers a population of 1000, which means she has to visit 100 to 150 houses. “Attitudes vary greatly across ethnicities and demographics matter a lot,” says John.

Experts predict that by 2030, Pakistan’s population will swell up 245 million, making it the 4th most populous nation in the world. According to the latest Pakistan Demographic and Health Survey (PDHS) 2017-18, 17 per cent of currently married women have an unmet need for family planning. If all married women who want to space or limit their children were to use a family planning method, the contraceptive prevalence rate (CPR) would increase from 34 percent to 52 percent. Only 34 percent of currently married women are using a contraceptive method either to space or to limit births.

Zahida Parveen, an LHW for District Okara, Punjab, sounds very hopeful. “Over 20 years as an LHW, I have visited thousands of houses, often visiting 15 houses a day. And I have seen how the awareness about family planning has grown exponentially. Initially people were so skeptical of LHWs visiting and counseling them, especially about FP, that they would not even touch the Paracetamol we sometimes gave them for pain or fever. The mother-in-laws in particular felt we are part of some sinister scheme to stop their daughters-in-law from having children, and want to stop their future generations from coming into this world,” she says. Now, she happily reports, even long-term contraceptives like IUCD are accepted as a choice by many women. The training she and other LHWs are receiving by Naya Qadam has taught them about newer forms of contraception too, like Levonorgestrel Implants – implantable subcutaneous contraceptive capsules – sold under brand names like Norplant and Jadelle. “It has taken years to win over the trust of these families; now they are open to the counseling services we provide for them,” says Parveen.

Social attitudes and changing mindsets remains one of the biggest challenges. Based on her experience of more than 15 years, John feels that attitudes towards FP have improved. “Now women are becoming aware enough to themselves giving permission to get contraceptives. However male involvement is still deep-rooted, as are the pressures of in-laws. One of the biggest tasks of LHWs is counseling the families,” she says.

“Women are raised in the community to accept patriarchy and gender inequality, letting go off their rights to choose for themselves. This further empowers men and other household figures, like mothers-in-law, to decide about potential size of families,” says Tabinda Sarosh, a women’s rights and reproductive health advocate, and currently the Country Director of Pathfinder International. In many families, desire to have sons results in increase in family size, and men make most decisions on health, economics and rights of family members, yet do not take responsibility for contraception, she explains. As someone who is running projects with the Government of Pakistan for quality services of FP, Sarosh feels that the most important solution to the problem is re-construction of the existing social and gender norms, by working from policy to communities, through multi-level and multi-sectoral interventions. “Combining health, education, gender, and micro-finance interventions to create an enabling environment for women to get equal opportunities in education, employment and health related decisions” is the baseline solution in her opinion.

Provincial governments are showing an upward swing, and the thrust on FP seems to have started to show improvement.

Minister for Health, Punjab, Dr Yasmin Rashid, is focusing especially on two areas as priority – Maternal Health and Child Health – says Dr Akhtar Rasheed, who works as Technical Lead for Family Planning and Nutrition, government of Punjab, assistant the province’s Minister for Health as Adviser. “We want family planning to become a means for improving maternal health by ensuring that women have a gap of at least three years between having children,” he says. 1195 basic health units are working 24/7 in Punjab, in addition RHCs, DHQ hospitals, and tehsil-level hospitals. “Our focus is on facilitating antenatal care and visits, and use this opportunity to counsel the women to go for long-term family planning,” says Rasheed.

Focal person of the Sindh FP2020 and Technical Adviser of the Costed Implementation Plan’s (CIP), Dr Talib Lashari, says that the CIP’s implementation in the province of Sindh is underway at a fast pace. The province of Sindh became the first province to come up with a roadmap, the CIP, for achieving FP2020 goals. “Our focus is on increasing and enhancing existing services. We have 72 Reproductive Health Service A Centres (RHS-A) located in DHQs that supply a full range of all kinds of contraceptive methods. A new choice among contraceptives that has been approved is an easy-to-use subcutaneous contraceptive injection that women can give to themselves to prevent pregnancies for short term like 3-months; it is called Sayana Press. This has been introduced in 17 districts already and will be introduced in another 12 districts by December. Our aim is to increase the CPR to 45% by 2020. Post the release of the latest PDHS, research conducted by departments under the CIP Secretariat shows that the CPR has already reached 34%. But to reach our target, we will have to work two fold,” says Lashari.

Both the Sindh government and Punjab government provide contraceptives free of cost. In Punjab, the government even gives women the facility of free pick up to reach the hospital for deliver free of cost to encourage them to deliver at proper health facilities.

What is a fresh spin on the strategy for FP is that to increase the contraceptive prevalence rate (CPR), the government of Sindh is now focusing on urban migratory population and slums. “For this the Karachi Urban Plan is being made. Part of the efforts is to counsel migratory communities in their own language. We are focusing on PPFP, and 1758 doctors are being trained across Sindh for it. Tertiary hospitals are also being looped in for FP efforts. Trainings are also being conducted for helping insert devices that release levonorgestrel for birth control,” says Lashari.  He adds that in Sindh the political commitment is a hundred percent. However, he accepts that while there are opportunities, there are challenges too, and much needs to be done. “We have a window of optimism due to the above steps being taken.”

“When a woman goes through the often traumatic experience of a miscarriage, an abortion, or childbirth, and especially if her pregnancy was not a desired one, she is more receptive to the idea of getting PPFP. By PPFP, I mean both post-partum family planning and post-pregnancy family planning. That is the best time to make sure she goes home with a contraceptive,” says Rasheed.

While modern methods are being introduced and both public and private sectors are working on increasing awareness about FP as well as working on supply of contraceptives, there is little that can be done to bring women back to the hospital once they leave. Thus, post pregnancy family planning remains the key. “The women should not only leave the hospital with a baby, but with a contraceptive too,” says Ahsan.

An abridged version of this article was published in The Express Tribune here.

Let us talk numbers – Contraception in Pakistan

For Pakistan to climb the ladder of development indicators, the issue of family planning needs urgent attention

Let us talk numbers
Only 34 percent of married women are using a contraceptive method.

While we are at it, let us talk more numbers. According to the latest Pakistan Demographic and Health Survey (PDHS) 2017-18, 52 percent of currently married women age 15-49 in Pakistan have a demand for family planning (FP), 19 percent for spacing births, and 33 percent for limiting births. Only 34 percent of currently married women are using a contraceptive method either to space or to limit births, and therefore have fulfilled their need. However, 17 percent of currently married women have an unmet need for family planning — 10 percent want to space and 8 percent desire to limit births but are currently not using any contraception. If all married women who want to space or limit their children were to use a family planning method, the contraceptive prevalence rate (CPR) would increase from 34 percent to 52 percent.

Humans require developed ecosystems to survive and thrive, something that we are unable to provide to more than 220 million people. Of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Pakistan is lagging behind at most. According to UNICEF, 23 million children between the ages of 5 and 16 are out of school in Pakistan, a whopping 44 percent of the total population in this age group. There are some five million children between the ages of 5 to 9 who are not in school, making it the world’s second-highest number of out-of-school children (OOSC) at the primary level. Not just this but also that gender-wise, boys outnumber girls at every stage of education. In Balochistan alone, 78 percent of girls are out of school. For every 10.7 million boys that are enrolled at the primary level, 8.6 million girls are enrolled, and dropouts of female students remain high. Health experts say that over 44 percent of Pakistani children under five years are stunted due to chronic malnutrition.

It is not that Pakistan is not working on these issues. Yes, clearly, the work is not enough, but there is something more to the failing state of our social indicators. That is, perhaps, the missing link we do not see enough work being done on — family planning. The strapping Pakistani youth in such high numbers could be Pakistan’s asset; they are, instead, Pakistan’s Achilles heel. The nation has to not just feed the 220 million plus people. It also has to provide opportunities for growth and development so that Pakistani people can tap into their potential for economic prosperity of themselves and of the country.

The dots have been joined. Why, then, are we failing at it?

Lack of political will, and perhaps realisation among the upper echelons of power regarding the importance of mitigating this increase in population has been a consistent issue. Earlier this year, the Ministry of Health formulated an action plan for population control. The draft shows that the government is aiming at obtaining universal productive health services by 2025. The buck stops at the National Task Force on Population Control, headed by Prime Minister Imran Khan. But the real test is not just the approval of such action plans, but actually the implementation. The plans have been multiple but the implementation has clearly not been enough. When a country’s biggest issue has been its national security, followed if not preceded by layered and debilitating economic crises, family planning seems to be a lesser important challenge. In reality, it is one of the biggest ones.

What the proposed law is doing is updating an old piece of legislation with some new principles of human and women’s rights and ensuring that processes are made easier and more streamlined and that the suffering of a significant number of people in their country is reduced.

Healthcare persons and experts working at the grass root level cite many potential issues. While antenatal care and visits from a skilled healthcare provider may have improved, there is still much to be done. Midwives and lady health visitors can play an imperative role in this, and it is these programmes that need to be strengthened through their training and capacity-building. Perhaps this is why modern contraceptive use by married women has stagnated over the last 5 years, with 26 percent of women using a modern method in 2012-13 and 25 percent in 2017-18, according to the PDHS. Lady health workers play a major role in dispensing injectables, oral pills, and condoms to women, 18 percent, 26 percent, and 15 percent respectively.

Modern methods include injectables, intrauterine devices (IUDs), contraceptive pills, implants, male condoms, the standard days method, lactational amenorrhoea method, and emergency contraception.

69 percent of unplanned pregnancies end in induced abortion in Pakistan, states a recent study by Guttmacher Institute titled “Adding It Up: Costs and Benefits of Meeting the Contraceptive and Maternal and Newborn Health Needs of Women in Pakistan”. The study further informs that fully meeting married women’s need for contraception would lead to an estimated reduction of nearly 1,000 maternal deaths annually.

Contraceptive discontinuation, myths surrounding use of modern contraceptives, fear of side effects, lack of awareness, an absence of decisions made mutually by the couple without interference of mothers-in-law and societal dictates — the reasons are multiple.

World Contraception Day falls on the 26th of September. It is a reminder that for Pakistan’s well-being, much needed impetus for the issue of family planning is the solution. It is only then that Pakistan can hope to climb the rungs on the ladder of development indicators.

http://tns.thenews.com.pk/let-us-talk-numbers/#.XZGtB0YzbIU

 

NON-FICTION: THE AESTHETIC MYSTIC

Updated August 04, 2019
A photo by Joseph Hoyt and calligraphy by Ziaur Rehman Khan and Ali Alam | Images from the book
A photo by Joseph Hoyt and calligraphy by Ziaur Rehman Khan and Ali Alam | Images from the book

Mirza Asadullah Khan Ghalib and Allama Muhammad Iqbal in a more regional context, and William Shakespeare in a more global one, would be turning in their graves in this era of social media. So many of the couplets and verses attributed to them were never written by them. But more than any of these greats, it is the words of Rumi — or not, actually, the words of Rumi — that are shared callously and confidently. Translations of alleged excerpts from the Masnavi-i-Masnavi of the 13th century poet, jurist, Islamic scholar, theologian and Sufi mystic Jalaluddin Muhammad Rumi — often called Maulana when mentioned with a term of endearment — have been popularised to the point that, today, it is difficult to decipher which of the quotes in social media artworks and in coffee table books actually originated from Rumi’s pen and heart, and which are mere ambitious and fictitious attributions to him. However, when Coleman Barks, one of the most famous Western interpreters of Rumi, says that a couplet is Rumi’s, it probably is.

The works of Barks, complimenting some of the choicest images taken by photographer Joseph Hoyt, constitute The Mystery of Things: Interpretations of Rumi. Hardbound, visually delightful, and an easy and satisfying skim-through on a day when one is looking for nuggets of spiritual wisdom to answer deeper existential questions, the book touches just the right chords with today’s lover of Rumi’s works.

Hoyt’s earlier book, Afghanistan 1970-1975: Images from an Era of Peace, published in 2008, was when his photographs — based on the time he spent in Afghanistan — transitioned from being in exhibitions to taking form as a book. The Mystery of Things also started from being photographs on exhibit and are complemented by Barks’s writings based on Rumi’s verses.

Khalid Hosseini, author of the famed The Kite Runner, and Hoyt have had a long connection. Half of the proceeds from Hoyt’s first book went toward supporting The Khaled Hosseini Foundation to help with providing humanitarian assistance to communities in Afghanistan that needed it. It is thus befitting that the foreword of this book is written by Hosseini. In the foreword, he explains why photographs taken in Afghanistan are a suitable backdrop for Rumi’s verses: “Rumi’s soul was in the Afghan wind. It was in the air, in the water. You could hear it in the blind crooner’s song at a crowded street corner, in the extra beat he held the sorrowful notes, in the elegiac tremble of his voice. Rumi was everywhere. It is hardly surprising. Afghanistan is, after all, the birthplace of the great poet.” Hosseini goes on to call this book the perfect marriage between words and images.

The 44 images from Afghanistan in this book are simultaneously timeless in their human quality and nostalgic in the fact that they were captured by Hoyt’s lens in the 1970s, and thus remind one of an Afghanistan that has changed and evolved in many ways, owing to the many storms the country and the nation has weathered.

Perhaps that is something Rumi’s poetry also highlights in the human race. There is so much that is intransient in humans, owing to their inherent connection with the Divine. Yet the identity of humans keeps evolving. In this, there is much that is lasting and much that is fleeting and ever changing in humanity.

The selections of poetry are careful, and stirring, which is a quality archetypical to Rumi’s poems. Such as this quatrain:

Burning with longing fire
Wanting to sleep with my head on your doorsill
My living is composed only of this trying
To be in your presence

Another one, juxtaposed against a spectacular photograph of an amber-hued sunset — or sunrise — sky reflecting in still waters, is this classic piece of mystic poetry:

I keep asking, Who gives my soul
This increasing delight in what it does?
Who gave me life in the first place?
Sometimes I feel covered
Like a falcon mewed
Waiting inside its hood
Other times I can see
Then I get released into the sky

The art in the book is not limited to Hoyt’s photography. The sections are divided by selected verses from Rumi’s Persian poetry, calligraphed with a flow that is almost poetic, merging seamlessly into the philosophy that Maulana’s poetry offers. For this, calligraphers Ziaur Rehman Khan and Ali Alam deserve a special mention.

In Pakistan, the book has been published by the Bookgroup and the editors are Rakhshee Niazi and Sami Mustafa. The paper quality, layout and the touch and feel of the book, as well as the careful selection of the colour palette of black-and-white with greys, does justice to the content. It is a sensitively designed and printed book, with a gentle and aesthetic feel to it and not once does it overstep the boundaries of being in the periphery of Rumi’s mystic ideology. It is then safe to say that this is a layered book, in that it uses various media such as mystic poetry, calligraphy and impactful photography.

Yet another layer that may interest the Rumi aficionado is the fact that it is none other than Coleman Barks whose translations have been used as the main textual content of the book. To many, Barks’s work on Rumi has been the means to get introduced to the great sage’s poetry. To others, Barks’s work remains a debatable means for this introduction. For starters, Barks — according to some experts — is not known for his prowess of Persian, but rather as one who interprets existing translations of Rumi’s work, thus being the interpreter rather than the translator. But even if he is established as the translator as well as the interpreter, who is the target audience of Barks’s interpretations of Rumi’s work? The way Barks interprets Rumi’s poetry makes Rumi sound simply a mystic, and the image he paints of Rumi is what many have critically called a ‘non-Islamic Rumi’, whereas history has it clearly that Rumi — in addition to being a spiritual master and mystic poet — was a theologian, a scholar and a jurist of Islamic law as well. It is almost as if the mention of Rumi as a Muslim scholar has been erasedfrom his works. Perhaps today’s human craves answers to the bigger questions in poems that are connecting him or her with the Divine as the Beloved, but does not wish to alter his or her lifestyle in accordance with Islamic jurisprudence. Thus, the Rumi described in Barks’s interpretation of him is one whose only creed is love. While this is very enticing to today’s audience, how close to reality it is remains debatable.

Nevertheless, Barks’s contribution to popularising and propagating the works of Rumi cannot be taken away. This book, thus, remains an important and refreshing addition to aesthetic printed renditions of the works of Rumi.

The reviewer is a Karachi-based journalist, editor and media trainer; human-centric feature stories and long form write-ups are her niche

The Mystery of Things:
Interpretations of Rumi
Translations by Coleman
Barks
Photography by Joseph Hoyt
Bookgroup, Karachi
ISBN: 978-9695503683
120pp.

Published in Dawn, Books & Authors, August 4th, 2019

https://www.dawn.com/news/1497975?fbclid=IwAR3mgJnawPNEbV5jCUc3dnMdbjDxZUx4pJUulypP6Y7UGzlVcv_Tl5XFTxU

Making Pakistan proud: In conversation with Wajiha Pervez

Making Pakistan proud: In conversation with interdisciplinary designer Wajiha Pervez

 Published: July 15, 2019

Wajiha Pervez is a Pakistani artist, interdisciplinary designer, materials enthusiast and traveler.PHOTO: VCUarts

Pakistan has an abundance of talent, and young Pakistanis continue to make their homeland proud internationally. One such Pakistani is Wajiha Pervez, a Pakistani artist, interdisciplinary designer, materials enthusiast and traveler.

Qatar Foundation (QF), a conglomerate of academic institutions including campuses of many international universities, houses the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Arts (VCUQ). The university hosts a high-profile event, Tasmeem Doha, which hosts renowned artists and speakers from all over the world. Up until now, the board of the event only consisted of either key faculty members from the parent campus in Richmond or top local faculty. However, this year, for the first time, Wajiha has been added to the board as a co-chair of the prestigious Tasmeem, the first entirely student-led edition of the event. She is the first Pakistani to have achieved this honour.

Born in Karachi, Wajiha received her BFA degree from the University College of Art and Design, Lahore, with a specialisation in textile design. Currently living in Doha, this 29-year-old achiever went on to acquire her MFA in Design from VCUarts Qatar in 2017.

In this exclusive interview, she talks to ET Blogs about her life, her journey, and her achievements.

Why did you opt for studying design at the university level?

Growing up, I was surrounded by family members and friends who were creative. I used to watch my grandmother’s stitching and was struck at how a piece of cloth, a few strands of thread – and skill – could create something beautiful. My mom has always been my biggest support and cheerleader. I get my energy and drive from her.

Besides, I felt it was the right time – Pakistan’s fashion and design sector was coming alive. We had our own design institutes.

Also, design suits my personality. Everything is fluid and evolving in design, which means that it’s unpredictable. As a person, I’m quite comfortable with that element of unpredictability, with allowing things to evolve in their own time.

Design is not merely about clothes and accessories; there isn’t a facet of life that is not touched by design. Even the most sophisticated technology needs an element of design to make it appealing and marketable; from forks and forklifts, to hospitals and homes, a designer’s fingerprint is on almost everything you use.

In the subcontinent, high-achieving students often choose a science stream. How did you take a different path?

There is still a degree of uncertainty in Pakistan when it comes to studying anything that does not lead to a ‘prescribed path’. And my case was no exception. It took quite a bit of persuasion and arguments with my family, to convince them of my decision.

Do you feel that attitudes in Pakistan have changed for youth and women?

As a millennial from Pakistan, I would say that things have changed a lot. The youth of Pakistan doesn’t accept answers blindly; we want to know the reasons behind a decision.

As a woman from Pakistan, I feel empowered because I have been raised by women who were independent and strong; never in my family have I seen a woman not being given an equal voice as her male counterparts.

I know that there are other women who may not be as fortunate as me. But then again, I’ve also been inspired by women who have faced their circumstances and gone on to achieve what they set out to. So I think women in Pakistan are in a far better place than their mothers and grandmothers were, and they know that.

How has the fashion and design scene in Pakistan evolved?

An appreciation of the finer elements of fashion and design has always existed in Pakistan. But it wasn’t given a voice and projected out onto a platform. We didn’t give it the sort of publicity that we do now. Compared to the fashion scenes in other countries, we’re still in our infancy. We are a regional contender, but we have yet to mature, or be elevated to a position where we are a global leader. I see this as an advantage – especially for people like me. It gives us more room to explore and establish our own styles.

When it comes to design, what do you focus on?        

My special interests are in material innovation. Now I make footwear and active wear mostly and consult companies on patents for sustainable materials and technologies. I also like to explore globally-endangered textiles through contemporary materials and techniques, so that traditional textiles continue to live on. I want to continue my research in the circular economy, sustainable fashion and ethically-produced textiles. I’m also keen to put together more conferences, events and festivals like Tasmeem.

Having co-chaired an international art and design event as a Pakistani, what does it mean to you?

Today, the experience seems surreal. I met so many incredibly talented people. Incidentally, the theme of this year’s Tasmeem was Hekayat (stories) and that was apt. The participants were a combination of rising and famous designers and artists, but they were also people who had struggled to reach where they are now; to get things done, to get their voices heard. It was inspiring to learn about what it took for each person to reach where they are now. For me, that was the biggest take-away of my experience – that I helped bring these inspiring designers to Qatar, and, in turn, inspire those in Qatar.

As a Pakistani, and as a woman, what has your experience in Qatar been like?

As a woman, what has struck me as amazing was the female leadership in Qatar and the QF. Nowhere else have I seen such remarkable female leaders as I have in QF’s Education City. I have always looked up to amazing women back in Pakistan, but in Qatar, the level of female-led leadership is something else; every big institution or organisation has a female in one of the topmost positions.

In Qatar, another factor that stands out is the multiculturalism. I’m blessed to have chosen a country that respects and values people from Pakistan. And not just to me, this country gives a voice and place to people from other countries also who call Qatar their home.

What would you tell your peer group – especially women – in Pakistan?

I would say the very first thing is to define yourself to yourself; you cannot move a step forward unless you know what your heart wants. Secondly, make sure you don’t take up anything that you don’t feel really strongly about. Then, step out. Because once you know the reason, the motivation and direction finds its way and then nothing can stop you.

God doesn’t give you a challenge if He feels that you don’t have what it takes to overcome it. You need to hold firmly on to that belief, because there will be times when that will be the only thing that stops you from giving up and going back.

Any immediate future plans that you’d like to share with us?

After Tasmeem 2019, for the first time since the biennale was staged, we are taking it out onto an international platform. The Tasmeem space will be set up as part of the upcoming London Design Festival in London Design Week. I’m in the process of putting together the exhibits and merchandise for that. After that, we plan to present a talk about it in Amman in Jordan. As for my personal circular fashion research, I am devoting more time to it now and we will see where it takes me.

(All photos: VCUarts Qatar)

Farahnaz Zahidi

A writer and editor, who has worked as a Features Editor with The Express Tribune. Her focus is human-centric feature stories. She now writes as a freelancer, and works as a media trainer and communications practitioner. She tweets as @FarahnazZahidi (twitter.com/farahnazzahidi?lang=en).

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

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