World Population Day: The power of birth

Through her lens, photojournalist Wendy Marijnissen brings out the issues faced by Pakistani women

Minerwa Tahir July 12, 2015
Belgian photojournalist Wendy Marijnissen spent quite some time in Pakistan, focusing on women’s maternal issues. According to her, she stayed with different families to understand their problems through first-hand experience. PHOTOS: COURTESY WENDY MARIJNISSEN’S WEBSITE

KARACHI: To bring to light the maternal issues faced by the women of Pakistan, particularly in rural Sindh, Belgian photojournalist Wendy Marijnissen held an exhibition, titled 'A photographic journey into the lives of Pakistani women' on Saturday at the Pakistan Medical Association House.

In the first part of the exhibition, she acquainted the audience with her background by showing them the photos she captured in Palestine and how that had sparked her interest in covering other parts of the world. Then she showcased her experience in Pakistan.

"I visited weddings and engagement parties on both sides (Israel and Palestine)," she said, talking about a wedding scene depicted in the picture projected on the screen. "It was really to show the differences and similarities. Through the differences you can show the conflict in a very different way. A Palestinian girl wants to do ballet as much as an Israeli girl, except they don't have the means or the place to do it."

Marijnissen puts in some extra effort to understand people's lives. "For people to understand conflicts or problems in countries that are not their own, the trick is to make it personal. [So I spent] quite some time with families."

According to her, it was the experience in Palestine that sparked her interest in capturing more of the world. "I really needed to be able to tell a story before I went [to Pakistan]. Somehow that never happened until a friend of a friend, who was going to get married to a Pakistani man, invited me to come. So, for the first time in 2009, I came to Pakistan."

Read: Conflict hampers population planning in K-P

Showing a slide depicting the desert area of Mithi in Tharparkar, she said: "[This shows] a completely different side of Pakistan. The environment is different. This is the place where maternal mortality is the highest in the whole country."

Showing a picture of a girl looking out the window of a public bus, Marijnissen described how she saw Karachi. "Karachi became like a home away from home. This became my hub, the place from where I got to know this country."

The photographer then showed pictures about maternal health. Perhaps the most unique aspect of her photography is how she is so accepting of maternity in its crude form. From dais and doctors looking at bloated bellies to women during and after labour, Marijnissen captured moments that many have never seen before.

She visited many surgical camps in interior Sindh. "I have seen countless women delivering babies, dozens and dozens of babies being born, which is still the most wonderful experience of my life."

She said the problems faced by women living in rural areas are far more than those faced by those living in the cities. The photographer showed the picture of a girl lying on a bed. Pain was visible on her face, and another older woman was kissing her on the cheek.

Read: Women in rural Pakistan champion the cause of population planning

"The girl needed an emergency C-section. She was just lucky that people from Karachi were visiting with a mobile clinic and were able to safely perform it. Right before the surgery, the mother gave her a kiss. These are the kind of things that everybody around the world can understand."

Marijnissen concluded with a video clip depicting the various problems faced by the women living in Pakistan. While she did not talk about World Population Day, observed around the world on July 11, it was apparent that through her exhibition, she was paying tribute to the creators of population.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 13th, 2015.