Every year, around this time, we get to see the same two camps in action. One that finds value in celebrating Mother’s Day and the other that accuses the first of being captivated by the West and in shackles of traditions that have nothing to do with our own. Unfortunately, in this bickering and endless conversation filled with inane arguments that happen every year, we tend to forget the core issue: the health and well-being of a mother in Pakistan.
These days, there are two kinds of ratings and rankings that we all come across. There are those which are based on opinions of a select few and then there are those which are based on facts. Somehow the ones that are based on opinions, like the recent “poll that put Pakistani men among the list of the most attractive in the world” tend to captivate us more. While in principle, as a Pakistani male, I should be very excited, in reality, I could not care less about that. What is far more important to me is another ranking that came out around the same time. This one, based on actual data, and not perception, ranks Pakistan 149th amongst 179 countries in the annual “State of the World’s Mothers” report by Save the Children. This year, the focus of the report is on the status, health and well-being of mothers in urban areas. To put this in perspective, a few key points are worthy of note. First, Pakistan has slipped from 147 to 149 since last year. In other words, we are worse off than we were a year ago. Second, with the exception of Afghanistan, every single neighbour of ours ranks higher in terms of the state and status of mothers in the country. Afghanistan is just a couple of places behind us. In our Saarc group of nations, Pakistan ranks the lowest in terms of maternal health and well-being. Third, we may consider ourselves as the rapidly rising Asian force, but the data tells us otherwise. With the exception of Afghanistan, Myanmar and Yemen, countries with tremendous domestic challenges, we are behind every single country in the entire Asian continent.
The report is comprehensive and data-driven, but paints a grim picture. What is perhaps more disturbing is our collective response. The response of those who we have somehow entrusted with policymaking and governance is probably best summed as a “soft-denial”. MNA Rumina Alam was quick to blame the provinces under the universal excuse of the 18th Amendment. Another MNA, Maiza Hameed, said that the government had been taking steps to resolve the issue. Not sure what those steps are and if there are steps being taken, did anyone wonder why they are not working. Or are we in a state of denial and assuming that somehow things are getting better? Clearly, the MNAs and I are not reading the same report. I would be glad to read what the policymakers are reading.
We can use the excuse of the 18th Amendment only for so long before it gets dull and boring. At some point, we have to own our problems and stop blaming the Constitution for the depressing state of health we are in. And if indeed we are the geniuses we claim to be and have figured out the problem, and it is the 18th Amendment, then let us fix that.
The problem is neither the 18th Amendment nor those who make these reports. The problem is a fundamentally misogynistic society that is quick to go in endless debates about how good or awful celebrating Mother’s Day is, but fails to consider half the society as equal human beings. From those who spew hatred and misogyny from the pulpit to those who deny women basic human rights to those supposedly ‘educated ones’ who get threatened by a talented, dedicated and ambitious female colleague, the report on the health and well-being of women in Pakistan is just one of the many mirrors that reflect reality.
We have a long way to go before we can consider ourselves worthy of celebrating our mothers.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 12th, 2015.
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