Reproductive health of women continues to be intimidated by widespread cultural and religious practices worldwide. Women bear the cost of unhealthy and bizarre sexual and cultural practices regarding sexuality. The stringent taboos associated with the subject of sex and anything remotely related to it hinder education (sex-ed) and awareness regarding healthy intercourse as well as the effective use of contraceptives other birth control measures.
The deeply ingrained stigmas that surround abortion deter people to resort to it as a safe medical procedure in crises situations regarding health, leading to severe health problems to both mother and infant.
Conservative schools condemn the use of contraceptives and other birth control measures under any circumstances. Multiple myths deem abortion to be equivalent to taking a life and thus proclaim it a prohibited practice with dire consequences in the religious context. This has contributed to the abhorrence of birth control in our culture, discrediting its significance in sustaining reproductive health. The orthodoxy entrenched in cultural practices is one of the most serious challenges to the reproductive health of the society and women in particular.
Within the framework of WHO’s definition of health as a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity,
Reproductive health addresses the reproductive processes, functions and system at all stages of life. Reproductive health, therefore, implies that people are able to have a responsible, satisfying and safe sex life and that they have the capability to reproduce and the freedom to decide if, when and how often to do so”.
The cultural, however, takes little to no account of the volition and freedom of women and objectifies them by associating their worth with their ability to bear children. In our culture, the worth of a woman is determined by the number of offspring she is able to produce and an inability to bear children would deem her status inadequate as a woman.
The cultural preference to male gender has resulted in discrimination and violation of multiple women rights, including the most basic “right to life”. Violence against women begins before they are even born. Most women are coerced to abort the baby if it’s a girl and those who are allowed to give birth to the “unwanted child” are tormented for being unable to conceive a boy. Mankind has regressed into the dark ages when the only babies that were allowed to survive were the ones with the golden gender (males), born with a privilege of being a man.
Women are not only called derogatory names but are also ostracized on this basis. Those who are not singled out are mistreated and forced into treatments by quacks and priests who mostly take advantage of the gullibility and ignorance of these people. Thus, the health of women in our country remains under a persistent threat.
Lack of awareness and education regarding the role of male and female in the process of conception is the root of such evils.
Cultural restraints in underprivileged and remote areas deny women their rights to access most health facilities. Women are not allowed to leave the residence without the company of a male member of the house even if their health demands them to do so. Most people frown upon women getting medically assessed by a male physician. These futile restraints have resulted in rigid ignorance which doesn’t allow women their basic right to choice and life. Many a time women are subjected to unethical and unprofessional procedures in the absence of a female doctor or a male member who can take them to a doctor, leading to long-term health complications or even death. In Pakistan, strict abortion laws and unsafe medical procedures are one of the leading causes of maternal mortality.
It is not only important but crucial to educate the masses on the significance of maintaining the reproductive health in order for this violence to end. Countless women and infants either lose their lives to a disease or are deprived of a healthy life due to improper care and inappropriate procedures (hygiene, competency).
Women’s sexual and reproductive health is related to multiple human rights, including the right to life, the right to be free from torture, the right to health, the right to privacy, the right to education, and the prohibition of discrimination. The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) have both clearly indicated that women’s right to health includes their sexual and reproductive health. This means that States have obligations to respect, protect and fulfill rights related to women’s sexual and reproductive health. The Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health maintains that women are entitled to reproductive health care services, goods and facilities that are:
- available in adequate numbers
- accessible physically and economically
- accessible without discrimination
- of good quality
UNFPA strives to ensure quality sexual and reproductive health information and services, including contraceptive services, violence against women and girls and sexual reproductive health needs of adolescents. Universal access to sexual reproductive health and women’s choice over their own reproductive choices is essential not only to achieve sustainable development but also to ensure empowerment for women.
A lot more needs to be done in Pakistan to alleviate this crisis or to facilitate the access of health care for women and protect them against violence on these grounds. An in-depth analysis of the issue and recommendations to mitigate it has been provided in a report by Lead Pakistan.