Razia had a very lively and spirited disposition. It seemed as if cooking was her favorite task and one she was good at too.
However, one day she didn’t seem her usual self and every now and then I would notice her slide down to the floor and stare in empty space. She was our cook and had been with us since the time I don’t even have a memory of.
It took quite some hoaxing and badgering for her to come out with the staggering truth; one that tickled my curiosity and gave birth to numerous questions. In the most casual of tones, she confessed that it must be the pregnancy blues. Razia was four months pregnant and after successfully bearing her 6th child, pregnancy for her was just a minor complication. I was shocked beyond comprehension but chose to seal my lips because in the world we live in and in the class I belong to, opinions are often stubbed by statements,
“How would you know – You don’t live the life we do!”
We are all aware of the patriarchal culture that exists in our society and its consequences. I learned, as my cook continued to narrate her gruesome childbearing saga, that it was a deeply rooted disease and one that affected women the most. She jested that women were only deemed worthy of medical attention if they were breathing their last breath. In some of the stories from her part of the world, women weren’t even considered humans and were left alone to deliver in the most wretched of places.
There are thousands of Razias in our country. The dilemma is that here, an illegal weapon is more readily available to us than healthcare is to our women. Pakistan is a country of over 191 million people and women take up a huge chunk of that number. Yet, they are under provided for and the least catered to. Accessibility plays a huge role in the increasing number of females suffering from one disease or another and in the queue right behind accessibility is education, or lack thereof. Lack of education is what restricts women from reaching out for medical assistance even when it is accessible.
Pakistan being the country to have achieved higher-than-average population growth rate in the entire of South Asia, it didn’t come to me as a shock when I learned that one of the major reasons why our women face healthcare issues is because of childbearing. Unfortunately, even after a number of NGOs have worked to improve the situation, a staggering number of women die during childbirth. Amongst other health issues, Razia explained that stress-induced headaches and white vaginal discharge were the most common ones especially in the list of not-considered-as-an-issue by the male dominant in the house. Therefore, the women are never taken for a check-up even if a doctor is accessible because it isn’t considered a disease or a health concern.
Women health issues are a stigma that plagues all under-developed countries around the world. However, it intensifies in households below the poverty line because in our patriarchal society women come last on the ladder of resources. They are provided for and cared for once the appetite of the male family members has been satiated. I belong to a middle class family and even though we are all educated and well aware of gender equality, I’m still told to make sure my father and brother get a proper serving of dinner first. It doesn’t seem consequential or severe but even the slightest presence means the plague is chronic and deep seated – ever present in our sub consciousness.