Increasing vulnerability of women and children in Pakistan
By Amir Murtaza
The vulnerability of innocent women and children has been astonishingly increased in Pakistan in past several months as the country has witnessed some deadly and planned attacks on unarmed women and children from militants.
On 18th December, Five Polio lady health workers were killed in Karachi and Peshawar, while two of their male colleagues received injuries during the attacks. The deceased were the part of a three-day national immunization campaign for the eradication of deadly Polio virus in Pakistan. The last few years have witnessed increase resistance against the Polio immunization over false pretexts, more so in certain parts of the country than the others. But the recent attack in Karachi, the most cosmopolitan city of Pakistan has proved that it is not the disease, but the diseased mindset, which is the main hurdle against the eradication of the deadly virus.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO) Polio cases have decreased by over 99% since 1988, from an estimated 350 000 cases then, to 650 reported cases in 2011. In 2012, only three countries, Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan, remain polio-endemic, down from more than 125 in 1988.
Mahnoor Hashmi, an entrepreneur and human rights activist, observed that trust deficit towards government policies has been a hallmark of Pakistani society for last thirty years. She added that, “Due to such trust deficit, it has become quite easy to spread rumors and malign sincere international and national efforts against the crippling Polio.”
Pakistan is a densely populated country of more than 190 million population and the country also has a significantly high birthrate. However, a large number of the Polio drops’ opponents believe that these drops are meant to make the next generation infertile. Gohar Khatoom, to whom I met at the clinic of a local pediatrician, informed that she had faced tough resistance from her father-in-law to vaccinate her newborn baby boy. She added that, “My father-in-law strongly believes that infidels have been hatching a conspiracy to restrict the population of Muslims, through these drops, in the country.”
It is heartening that federal and provincial governments, with the help international and UN agencies have been successfully trying to minimize the adverse affects of negative propaganda against the Polio drops, through organized awareness raising campaigns. The consistent and coordinated efforts of the government, international agencies and media have improved and strengthened the Polio immunization campaigns.
However, the recent wave of violence against anti-Polio health workers is a serious concern for the government, international agencies and civil society organizations in the country. Mohammad Asif Haroon, President of a health focused NGO, Haroon Memorial Welfare (HMW), observed that attacks in Karachi and Peshawar may damage the consistency of recent Polio drive as sense of insecurity, especially among female volunteers and health workers, is rising.
It is important to mention that in the month of October 2012, Malala Yousafzai, an ardent campaigner for the right of education for girls, was shot by Taliban while on her way home from school in Swat valley. The young girl received national and international attention in 2009 on her courageous stance on girls’ education in Swat valley, in northern areas of Pakistan. After the deadly attack she was flown to Britain where she is getting medical care in Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham.
The phenomenon of violence against women and children has been rife in the South Asian sub-continent, including Pakistan, for thousands years. Newspaper reports, studies, researches and surveys clearly report a high tide of violence against the weak sections of the society; however, the recent planned attacks on women and children have clearly indicated the emergence of a new form of violence against women and children.
The existence of rigid mentality is a reality in our society. The exponents of militancy are not only physically hurting the vulnerable parts of the community, but they are also trying to make our future generation unhealthy and uneducated. More recently the northern area has again witnessed a rise in destruction of girl’s schools which will ultimately results in undue drop outs of high proportion.
It is also unfortunate to know that after the deadly attacks, on Polio health workers, of this week, WHO and UNICEF have stopped the immunization campaign in the country, for security reasons. The proponents of such heinous acts have no clue that their barbaric acts will result in disabilities and death for thousands of children in the years to come.
The time, therefore, demands immediate, concrete and combined actions from the government and the society to defeat the nefarious designs of militants and ensure a fulfilling life for all, irrespective of color, creed, gender, or the strata of society they belong to.