On this International Women's Day, SHINE wants to pay tribute to all the women of Pakistan. Although women in Pakistan have made important strides in the past decade, Pakistan’s ranking in terms of gender equality is still not great. According to the World Economic Forum, Pakistan is almost at the bottom of the list of the Global Gender Gap Report of 2021 as it stands 151 out of 156 countries.

Not only is the maternal and infant mortality rate of Pakistan proof of the dire situation of women’s health but the phenomenon of the “Doctor Bahu” is also one of the biggest reasons that Pakistan has such a low doctor/patient ratio. Most families prefer having a female doctor as their daughter in law, but they are not allowed to practice medicine after their marriage. This means that a vast majority of our medical graduates never practice medicine-an annual number of 85,000 women stop practicing medicine in Pakistan. In a country where government allocation of resources towards health and education is already low-this comes at a huge cost.

In a country where most women give up medical practice in urban areas, we have taken a bold step by consciously hiring female doctors in all our clinics in rural areas. Not only that, but we also launched a “Community Outreach” program in Thatta in 2021 which involves training women with 14 years of education to become Community Health Workers. After completing a period of training, these women have the task of spreading awareness about basic health issues such as menstrual hygiene, reproductive healthcare and nutrition by visiting community households and talking to women who are otherwise excluded from public life. These workers also distribute nutritional tablets, medical supplements, contraceptives and health awareness material to women in the surrounding villages. These steps have not only helped us to empower the women of the local community but also give them agency to make decisions about their health.

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