October issue 2017

By | Interview | Published 9 months ago

In March this year, the Executive Director of Aahung, the Karachi-based NGO working to improve the Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) of people in Pakistan, was conferred the Joan B. Dunlop Award by the International Women’s Health Coalition (IWHC). The recipient of the award, Sheena Hadi is a young mother of two children, who began her 14-year career with Aahung as a field staffer in 2003, and has been at the helm of the organisation since 2008.

In March this year, the Executive Director of Aahung, the Karachi-based NGO working to improve the Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) of people in Pakistan, was conferred the Joan B. Dunlop Award by the International Women’s Health Coalition (IWHC). The recipient of the award, Sheena Hadi is a young mother of two children, who began her 14-year career with Aahung as a field staffer in 2003, and has been at the helm of the organisation since 2008.

Having tried her hand teaching in New York after completing her undergraduate degree in Biology from Amherst College, Massachusetts, Sheena returned to Pakistan, and after interning elsewhere, found her niche in Aahung as a programme coordinator – a job that combined her interests in education, public health and counselling. In between taking work leave from Aahung, Sheena completed her Masters from Harvard University, focusing her studies on Human Development and Psychology.

Sheena travels abroad regularly for her work in strategy, planning, financial and human resource oversight and international fund-raising. She is also on the gender advisory panel of the World Health Organisation, and is involved in assorted United Nation processes which entail negotiations, donor liaisons, and attending and networking at international conferences.

The Dunlop award is named after Joan B. Dunlop, who, after experiencing a traumatic illegal abortion as a young woman in the UK, was inspired to launch a lifelong campaign for women to have control over their own bodies, among them the right to refuse sex. Dunlop went on to found the IWHC, of which she remained the President for 14 years until her passing in June 2012.

The Dunlop award, which was created in honour of her legacy, is conferred every year by IWHC to women activists from various countries who work on women’s rights issues and promote SRHR for women and girls under challenging circumstances. This year’s honoree, Sheena Hadi, received it for her body of work in Aahung.

Aahung’s main focus is on capacity development to improve SRH services while advocating an enabling environment in which every individual’s sexual rights are respected, protected and fulfilled. The organisation works towards the prevention and management of SRHR issues which encompass child sexual abuse, violence against women (VAW) and HIV and AIDS. Despite Aahung’s low profile, over the last couple of decades the organisation has earned its reputation for its substantial and significant work in the SRHR arena.

For their outstanding achievement in engaging a wide range of stakeholders, like school teachers, medical staff, religious scholars and parents on difficult issues, Aahung received the Government of Netherlands’ Tulip Award in 2013, along with a €100,000 prize to further develop, innovate and scale up its human rights work.

 

Doesn’t the recent Joan B Dunlop award confirm how challenging it is working for women’s health and rights in Pakistan?

The Dunlop award has been conferred on other women as well, from Indonesia, Algeria, Nigeria and other places where they are battling against ingrained and rigid social and cultural norms that women have to deal with. They have to work around what is appropriate and acceptable for their families, issues such as when a girl should be married, whether she should go to school, how she should behave, etc. Pakistan is a particularly challenging country because the lines between what is socio-cultural and religious have become so blurred, that it has now become very difficult to differentiate them.

How far has Aahung come since you joined?

Aahung has changed a lot since I first joined in 2003. We turned 20 last year and have seen a massive transformation. While there has been stagnation – even losses in certain areas – there have been major gains as well. We started on a very small scale. I don’t know how many schools slammed the door on my face personally 10 years ago when I approached them and other educational institutions to integrate reproductive and health content in their course-work.

From the beginning Aahung decided not to focus on mainstream reproductive health because other organisations in Pakistan were already providing services to the public in population-specific programmes. We decided to focus on making them better by working through the rights-based angle and found a niche that other organisations were not working on.

We spoke of human and women’s reproductive rights, such as the woman’s right to choose when and how many children she wanted to have. If a healthcare worker provides a woman with accurate reproductive and health choices, and respects what she has to say about her circumstances, she will automatically make better, more informed decisions. The government tried the do bachay hai achay approach and we know it doesn’t work.

We actively worked on HIV and AIDS – voluntary testing and counselling – and looked into the rights of those who were HIV-positive; we trained healthcare providers to respect the rights of HIV-positive patients to services because they were being turned away without being given any.

I think the most challenging was working with adolescents. Twenty years ago they were not even identified as an audience with any specific needs. In Pakistan, one day you magically transform from a child to an adult – especially women. As soon as a girl menstruates, she is considered a woman.

We developed Pakistan’s first curriculum based on adolescent development, keeping in mind the kind of information we felt they needed to know, including changes in their bodies during puberty and the importance of hygiene.

To make a difference, we started concentrating on strategic areas. For example, we found no one was actually working with healthcare providers – doctors, nurses, Lady Health Workers (LHWs) and community midwives – before they became providers. We developed an entire programme to work with them at the pre-service level and started with medical and nursing schools addressing prevailing values, issues and lack of information. We entered into a curriculum change.

A few years ago we entered into a six-year collaboration with the DOW University of Health Sciences and managed to revamp their entire five-year curriculum. Now every student entering DOW is getting exposure to sexual and reproductive rights as well as the actual technical content eg. – how to treat a reproductive tract infection. These were not dealt with in a comprehensive way in their previous medical curriculum. We have trained, sensitised and worked with their faculty too. We have a batch of students graduating right now that are of a much better cadre because they are better equipped to understand this content.

Similarly, we are working very closely with the Department of Education in Sindh. We developed a framework where our reproductive health content – which we call Lifeskills-Based Education (LSBE) – is being introduced into the curriculum from Class 6 to 9. We are at this point initiating a pilot to see how it works. Developing content for schools will remain a work-in-progress because our school systems are so fragile. And on the side, we are independently working with about 400 schools in Sindh that are either private or public schools adopted and run by private administrations, where we have integrated this content and work with their teachers.

More women may be becoming aware of their health and reproductive rights, but do they know how to access these services?

There are door-to-door community health workers trying to fill the gaps in reproductive services. The NGO sector is trying through other ways, such as establishing tele-helplines that women can call on to get some basic information. There are a lot of privatised clinics which at least facilitate them. In Karachi and other urban centres there are still ways to access these services, but the really deep problem is faced by women in the rural areas where there is no availability.

Sometimes women don’t feel comfortable because of confidentiality issues because someone from among their in-laws wants to accompany them to the doctor’s. That is why healthcare provider training is very important, as she is the one to facilitate the woman so that she can fulfil her choice – not her mother-in-law’s.

Will the recent census help give an accurate picture of the scale of services required by women in the reproductive age group?

The most recent census won’t necessarily help us in getting any accurate information on women. Until about three months ago, there were no female data collectors because they had all been removed – there were only males. From what we know of the census held in 1998, a lot of data on women and girls was missing, because male data collectors did not have access. It has been called the ‘Missing Girls in Pakistan Census,’ because literally the numbers on them were not there. It is the same this time round as well.

I have just returned from a meeting in New York on Sustainable Development Goals (SGDs). We are trying very hard for governments, especially the one in Pakistan, to look at the 15-and-under age group as an important criteria. Governments are saying they don’t have the data. In response we say unless you prioritise, you won’t collect the data. It is crucial we have information on how many of the girls are getting married in that age group.

So where does Pakistan stand now?

In terms of reproductive statistics, we have seen a little bit of movement. The average family size in Pakistan was 4.1. Now we are 3.8, but people want 3.1. Our school enrolment rates have gone up marginally, but we have 13 million girls out of school. Usage of modern contraceptives hovers around 35 per cent when it should be 50-55 per cent.

The most frightening statistic is that 60 per cent of our population is below the age of 24, entering their reproductive years but with no access to information on reproductive health or proper services. Nor is there a particularly good education system, while millions of kids are still out of school. I am mystified, why aren’t more people alarmed by this.

Pakistan has had a very high maternal mortality rate for many years. Is it still the same?

Our maternal mortality rate is still high (at 36 per 1000) and has barely improved. We have an estimated 900,000 abortions per year, which was last re-estimated to be 2.2 million. Currently over 50 per cent of unwanted pregnancies end up in mostly unsafe abortions, many of which then lead to post-abortion complications.

The average age of a woman seeking an abortion in Pakistan is over 35, with four living children. The critical problem of people not having the necessary services, choices and the information to manage their families is not being addressed. This is unacceptable given that Pakistan was one of the first countries in South Asia to adopt a population development programme under Ayub Khan in the ’60s. It just shows a sheer lack of political will.

The private sector does not have the capacity and will never be able to fulfill the responsibility that is the government’s. So yes, we have made some progress, but it is not nearly enough for the situation at hand in the country right now. If the population issue is not sorted out, there will never be enough schools and services available. Forget everything else, what would happen economically?

Bangladesh has had a national family-planning programme since 1979 which integrated “Menstrual Regulation,” essentially using methods to ensure there was no pregnancy in the case of a missed menstrual cycle. It is streamlined into their healthcare system. They have named it as such to avoid using the word abortion and to give women safe access to abortion across all their healthcare systems, without any taboo attached to it. Their family planning programmes have managed to address and work around religious concerns and influences because their government is committed to it.

Is Aahung working on any population policies or women-friendly policies with the federal or Sindh governments?

We don’t actively work on legal policy development, but rather focus on developing quality protocols and guidelines for   quality of services. They do get in touch with us (as a think tank), eg. currently the Department of Education is consulting us on a number of things, such as nutrition programmes. A number of young, anaemic girls die in childbirth because they have been malnourished since infancy.

In terms of population, family planning and contraception, our most important work is the programme with the youth. To start with, the concept that adolescents have the right to make choices about their family is never discussed with them. The pressure is on a girl as soon as she is married to immediately produce a child, and subsequently produce many more. To even be able to get young people to recognise that they have a choice, is a really important psychological transition.

Is the e-course on the Aahung website something that has been developed to help the youth with their choices?

The Family Life Education E-course was something that was developed under the Sukh project, which is a collaboration between several organisations in Pakistan and headed by the Aman Foundation. The course is designed to give young people private access to reproductive health information through a technology-based platform.

We have a youth-friendly space in Korangi frequented by dozens of young people. The centre has a counsellor, some professionals, and space where young people can go through the e-course privately.

So your focus is on catching them young and providing them with the information their parents didn’t have access to…

Yes, we start as young as age four – which is also part of the curriculum we have developed. The objective is to try and have younger children become more comfortable with their body and their rights. The earlier that young people feel comfortable, confident and can communicate about their reproductive health concerns and fears, the better chance they can be safe and healthy.

Is there an area you have not been able to discuss?

Schools have not allowed us to actually work on sexual orientation – we can’t put that in. Instead, we address issues of respect and on providing services to people of different genders and orientation, but unfortunately it’s the one terrain which approaching is like hitting a wall of lead.

Has there been a decline in Violence Against Women (VAW) over the last decade?

I think violence against women has not been addressed at all. I hold very strong opinions on how the pro-women laws have been promulgated in Pakistan, many of them at the end of the last government and some in the last few years. There has been a lot of celebration around them, but making laws stricter and increasing the punishment around crimes of honour killing and rape is not going to work, unless there are strong mechanisms for the implementation of those laws.

Secondly, increasing sentences around laws is a not such a good thing because it puts judges in more difficult situations. If I have to rule on somebody’s life, how much more evidence do I need to put a man to death? I don’t necessarily think it is something to celebrate. Just because there is a stricter law, what does it actually mean for the woman on the ground? We need systems in place, such as domestic shelters and a more sensitised police force with an improved attitude, starting with the handling of a VAW report. What happens when a woman comes to report about domestic violence? The first person that is going to send her home is the police officer who will probably say ghar ka mamla hai (sort it out in your house).

We haven’t worked on gender-senstisation and on women’s economic empowerment to enable women to control and make decisions over their own resources. Even today, from the get-go, boys are treated differently from girls. Girls are still being married off very early and put in situations where they are powerless to make decisions. We don’t value girls and things that are not valued are mistreated, so why would violence against women end?

How do you foresee the next 10, 20 years? How do you see the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for Pakistan?

Progress is very, very slow and the challenges are growing. A lot of the pushback is religious. For example, we are asked, “tell us exactly what this says in Islam – can we do this or can we not?” This is not what our trainers faced 12 years ago. The environment now is different because of the increasing influence of the religious right – not necessarily favourable for women.

But this is not to say that there is not plenty of amazing work being done. There are some great models that have been created, such as one of our closest partners, the SMB Fatima Jinnah Government School which was adopted by the Zindagi Trust. The Trust completely transforms the government girls’ schools they taken over and the results they have achieved so far in these schools is unbelievable. They have kids doing amazing activities, like playing chess. It was done to showcase the possibilities and it wasn’t that expensive either. These schools are now our leading partners in terms of adopting our LSBE curriculum.

There are wonderful models in the reproductive health sector as well, with earnest efforts to increase the contraceptive prevalence rate. This needs to happen urgently because we are so far off from our SDGs, even though the government has taken a lot of money for Family Planning 2020.

Civil societies and NGOs have demonstrated, through their own models that within four to five years the rate of contraceptive usage can increase by seven to nine per cent, provided there are door-to-door and other reproductive and healthcare services, with the women having a respected, rights-based choice. Also, the media needs to be used more effectively, rather than either banning contraceptive commercials or allowing them to be aired only after 11 pm. Only then will you see changes, particularly in educating the public.n

Having tried her hand teaching in New York after completing her undergraduate degree in Biology from Amherst College, Massachusetts, Sheena returned to Pakistan, and after interning elsewhere, found her niche in Aahung as a programme coordinator – a job that combined her interests in education, public health and counselling. In between taking work leave from Aahung, Sheena completed her Masters from Harvard University, focusing her studies on Human Development and Psychology.

Sheena travels abroad regularly for her work in strategy, planning, financial and human resource oversight and international fund-raising. She is also on the gender advisory panel of the World Health Organisation, and is involved in assorted United Nation processes which entail negotiations, donor liaisons, and attending and networking at international conferences.

The Dunlop award is named after Joan B. Dunlop, who, after experiencing a traumatic illegal abortion as a young woman in the UK, was inspired to launch a lifelong campaign for women to have control over their own bodies, among them the right to refuse sex. Dunlop went on to found the IWHC, of which she remained the President for 14 years until her passing in June 2012.

The Dunlop award, which was created in honour of her legacy, is conferred every year by IWHC to women activists from various countries who work on women’s rights issues and promote SRHR for women and girls under challenging circumstances. This year’s honoree, Sheena Hadi, received it for her body of work in Aahung.

Aahung’s main focus is on capacity development to improve SRH services while advocating an enabling environment in which every individual’s sexual rights are respected, protected and fulfilled. The organisation works towards the prevention and management of SRHR issues which encompass child sexual abuse, violence against women (VAW) and HIV and AIDS. Despite Aahung’s low profile, over the last couple of decades the organisation has earned its reputation for its substantial and significant work in the SRHR arena.

For their outstanding achievement in engaging a wide range of stakeholders, like school teachers, medical staff, religious scholars and parents on difficult issues, Aahung received the Government of Netherlands’ Tulip Award in 2013, along with a €100,000 prize to further develop, innovate and scale up its human rights work.

 

Doesn’t the recent Joan B Dunlop award confirm how challenging it is working for women’s health and rights in Pakistan?

The Dunlop award has been conferred on other women as well, from Indonesia, Algeria, Nigeria and other places where they are battling against ingrained and rigid social and cultural norms that women have to deal with. They have to work around what is appropriate and acceptable for their families, issues such as when a girl should be married, whether she should go to school, how she should behave, etc. Pakistan is a particularly challenging country because the lines between what is socio-cultural and religious have become so blurred, that it has now become very difficult to differentiate them.

How far has Aahung come since you joined?

Aahung has changed a lot since I first joined in 2003. We turned 20 last year and have seen a massive transformation. While there has been stagnation – even losses in certain areas – there have been major gains as well. We started on a very small scale. I don’t know how many schools slammed the door on my face personally 10 years ago when I approached them and other educational institutions to integrate reproductive and health content in their course-work.

From the beginning Aahung decided not to focus on mainstream reproductive health because other organisations in Pakistan were already providing services to the public in population-specific programmes. We decided to focus on making them better by working through the rights-based angle and found a niche that other organisations were not working on.

We spoke of human and women’s reproductive rights, such as the woman’s right to choose when and how many children she wanted to have. If a healthcare worker provides a woman with accurate reproductive and health choices, and respects what she has to say about her circumstances, she will automatically make better, more informed decisions. The government tried the do bachay hai achay approach and we know it doesn’t work.

We actively worked on HIV and AIDS – voluntary testing and counselling – and looked into the rights of those who were HIV-positive; we trained healthcare providers to respect the rights of HIV-positive patients to services because they were being turned away without being given any.

I think the most challenging was working with adolescents. Twenty years ago they were not even identified as an audience with any specific needs. In Pakistan, one day you magically transform from a child to an adult – especially women. As soon as a girl menstruates, she is considered a woman.

We developed Pakistan’s first curriculum based on adolescent development, keeping in mind the kind of information we felt they needed to know, including changes in their bodies during puberty and the importance of hygiene.

To make a difference, we started concentrating on strategic areas. For example, we found no one was actually working with healthcare providers – doctors, nurses, Lady Health Workers (LHWs) and community midwives – before they became providers. We developed an entire programme to work with them at the pre-service level and started with medical and nursing schools addressing prevailing values, issues and lack of information. We entered into a curriculum change.

A few years ago we entered into a six-year collaboration with the DOW University of Health Sciences and managed to revamp their entire five-year curriculum. Now every student entering DOW is getting exposure to sexual and reproductive rights as well as the actual technical content eg. – how to treat a reproductive tract infection. These were not dealt with in a comprehensive way in their previous medical curriculum. We have trained, sensitised and worked with their faculty too. We have a batch of students graduating right now that are of a much better cadre because they are better equipped to understand this content.

Similarly, we are working very closely with the Department of Education in Sindh. We developed a framework where our reproductive health content – which we call Lifeskills-Based Education (LSBE) – is being introduced into the curriculum from Class 6 to 9. We are at this point initiating a pilot to see how it works. Developing content for schools will remain a work-in-progress because our school systems are so fragile. And on the side, we are independently working with about 400 schools in Sindh that are either private or public schools adopted and run by private administrations, where we have integrated this content and work with their teachers.

More women may be becoming aware of their health and reproductive rights, but do they know how to access these services?

There are door-to-door community health workers trying to fill the gaps in reproductive services. The NGO sector is trying through other ways, such as establishing tele-helplines that women can call on to get some basic information. There are a lot of privatised clinics which at least facilitate them. In Karachi and other urban centres there are still ways to access these services, but the really deep problem is faced by women in the rural areas where there is no availability.

Sometimes women don’t feel comfortable because of confidentiality issues because someone from among their in-laws wants to accompany them to the doctor’s. That is why healthcare provider training is very important, as she is the one to facilitate the woman so that she can fulfil her choice – not her mother-in-law’s.

Will the recent census help give an accurate picture of the scale of services required by women in the reproductive age group?

The most recent census won’t necessarily help us in getting any accurate information on women. Until about three months ago, there were no female data collectors because they had all been removed – there were only males. From what we know of the census held in 1998, a lot of data on women and girls was missing, because male data collectors did not have access. It has been called the ‘Missing Girls in Pakistan Census,’ because literally the numbers on them were not there. It is the same this time round as well.

I have just returned from a meeting in New York on Sustainable Development Goals (SGDs). We are trying very hard for governments, especially the one in Pakistan, to look at the 15-and-under age group as an important criteria. Governments are saying they don’t have the data. In response we say unless you prioritise, you won’t collect the data. It is crucial we have information on how many of the girls are getting married in that age group.

So where does Pakistan stand now?

In terms of reproductive statistics, we have seen a little bit of movement. The average family size in Pakistan was 4.1. Now we are 3.8, but people want 3.1. Our school enrolment rates have gone up marginally, but we have 13 million girls out of school. Usage of modern contraceptives hovers around 35 per cent when it should be 50-55 per cent.

The most frightening statistic is that 60 per cent of our population is below the age of 24, entering their reproductive years but with no access to information on reproductive health or proper services. Nor is there a particularly good education system, while millions of kids are still out of school. I am mystified, why aren’t more people alarmed by this.

Pakistan has had a very high maternal mortality rate for many years. Is it still the same?

Our maternal mortality rate is still high (at 36 per 1000) and has barely improved. We have an estimated 900,000 abortions per year, which was last re-estimated to be 2.2 million. Currently over 50 per cent of unwanted pregnancies end up in mostly unsafe abortions, many of which then lead to post-abortion complications.

The average age of a woman seeking an abortion in Pakistan is over 35, with four living children. The critical problem of people not having the necessary services, choices and the information to manage their families is not being addressed. This is unacceptable given that Pakistan was one of the first countries in South Asia to adopt a population development programme under Ayub Khan in the ’60s. It just shows a sheer lack of political will.

The private sector does not have the capacity and will never be able to fulfill the responsibility that is the government’s. So yes, we have made some progress, but it is not nearly enough for the situation at hand in the country right now. If the population issue is not sorted out, there will never be enough schools and services available. Forget everything else, what would happen economically?

Bangladesh has had a national family-planning programme since 1979 which integrated “Menstrual Regulation,” essentially using methods to ensure there was no pregnancy in the case of a missed menstrual cycle. It is streamlined into their healthcare system. They have named it as such to avoid using the word abortion and to give women safe access to abortion across all their healthcare systems, without any taboo attached to it. Their family planning programmes have managed to address and work around religious concerns and influences because their government is committed to it.

Is Aahung working on any population policies or women-friendly policies with the federal or Sindh governments?

We don’t actively work on legal policy development, but rather focus on developing quality protocols and guidelines for   quality of services. They do get in touch with us (as a think tank), eg. currently the Department of Education is consulting us on a number of things, such as nutrition programmes. A number of young, anaemic girls die in childbirth because they have been malnourished since infancy.

In terms of population, family planning and contraception, our most important work is the programme with the youth. To start with, the concept that adolescents have the right to make choices about their family is never discussed with them. The pressure is on a girl as soon as she is married to immediately produce a child, and subsequently produce many more. To even be able to get young people to recognise that they have a choice, is a really important psychological transition.

Is the e-course on the Aahung website something that has been developed to help the youth with their choices?

The Family Life Education E-course was something that was developed under the Sukh project, which is a collaboration between several organisations in Pakistan and headed by the Aman Foundation. The course is designed to give young people private access to reproductive health information through a technology-based platform.

We have a youth-friendly space in Korangi frequented by dozens of young people. The centre has a counsellor, some professionals, and space where young people can go through the e-course privately.

So your focus is on catching them young and providing them with the information their parents didn’t have access to…

Yes, we start as young as age four – which is also part of the curriculum we have developed. The objective is to try and have younger children become more comfortable with their body and their rights. The earlier that young people feel comfortable, confident and can communicate about their reproductive health concerns and fears, the better chance they can be safe and healthy.

Is there an area you have not been able to discuss?

Schools have not allowed us to actually work on sexual orientation – we can’t put that in. Instead, we address issues of respect and on providing services to people of different genders and orientation, but unfortunately it’s the one terrain which approaching is like hitting a wall of lead.

Has there been a decline in Violence Against Women (VAW) over the last decade?

I think violence against women has not been addressed at all. I hold very strong opinions on how the pro-women laws have been promulgated in Pakistan, many of them at the end of the last government and some in the last few years. There has been a lot of celebration around them, but making laws stricter and increasing the punishment around crimes of honour killing and rape is not going to work, unless there are strong mechanisms for the implementation of those laws.

Secondly, increasing sentences around laws is a not such a good thing because it puts judges in more difficult situations. If I have to rule on somebody’s life, how much more evidence do I need to put a man to death? I don’t necessarily think it is something to celebrate. Just because there is a stricter law, what does it actually mean for the woman on the ground? We need systems in place, such as domestic shelters and a more sensitised police force with an improved attitude, starting with the handling of a VAW report. What happens when a woman comes to report about domestic violence? The first person that is going to send her home is the police officer who will probably say ghar ka mamla hai (sort it out in your house).

We haven’t worked on gender-senstisation and on women’s economic empowerment to enable women to control and make decisions over their own resources. Even today, from the get-go, boys are treated differently from girls. Girls are still being married off very early and put in situations where they are powerless to make decisions. We don’t value girls and things that are not valued are mistreated, so why would violence against women end?

How do you foresee the next 10, 20 years? How do you see the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for Pakistan?

Progress is very, very slow and the challenges are growing. A lot of the pushback is religious. For example, we are asked, “tell us exactly what this says in Islam – can we do this or can we not?” This is not what our trainers faced 12 years ago. The environment now is different because of the increasing influence of the religious right – not necessarily favourable for women.

But this is not to say that there is not plenty of amazing work being done. There are some great models that have been created, such as one of our closest partners, the SMB Fatima Jinnah Government School which was adopted by the Zindagi Trust. The Trust completely transforms the government girls’ schools they taken over and the results they have achieved so far in these schools is unbelievable. They have kids doing amazing activities, like playing chess. It was done to showcase the possibilities and it wasn’t that expensive either. These schools are now our leading partners in terms of adopting our LSBE curriculum.

There are wonderful models in the reproductive health sector as well, with earnest efforts to increase the contraceptive prevalence rate. This needs to happen urgently because we are so far off from our SDGs, even though the government has taken a lot of money for Family Planning 2020.Civil societies and NGOs have demonstrated, through their own models that within four to five years the rate of contraceptive usage can increase by seven to nine per cent, provided there are door-to-door and other reproductive and healthcare services, with the women having a respected, rights-based choice. Also, the media needs to be used more effectively, rather than either banning contraceptive commercials or allowing them to be aired only after 11 pm. Only then will you see changes, particularly in educating the public.

The writer is a documentary filmmaker and activist. She is working with the Newsline as editorial assistant.