Call to spread awareness on sexual, reproductive rights

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KARACHI: Speakers at a youth leadership workshop on 23 June 2024 tressed the need for creating awareness about consent and sexual and reproductive rights.

The workshop focused on health and well-being was aimed at empowering young Pakistanis with essential knowledge and skills in sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR).

Public health experts, trainers and professionals from the healthcare sector participated in the workshop conducted at the Lincoln Corner, Pakistan American Culture Center on Saturday.

The workshop highlighted that the youth in Pakistan faced numerous sexual and reproductive health challenges, compounded by socio-cultural taboos that hindered access to vital SRHR services, such as family planning, contraception, and sexually transmitted disease (STD) prevention.

Given Pakistan`s significant population of over 240 million, addressing these issues is crucial. The country`s fertility rate remains high at 3.47 births per woman (2021), and the unmet need for contraception among married women is 17 per cent, as per the 2017-18 Pakistan Demographic and Health Survey (PDHS).

Furthermore, a Unicef survey revealed that 49pc of young girls in Pakistan were unaware of menstruation before their first period, highlighting a critical gap in reproductive health education.

This lack of awareness about reproductive health issues adversely affects individuals` physical, social, emotional, and mental health. If these issues remain unaddressed, the consequences could be dire. The stigma and misinformation surrounding SRHR can also perpetuate cycles of poor health outcomes, hinder educational and economic opportunities, and contribute to gender inequality.

Dr Tahani Zaidi, a community medicine resident at Aga Khan University Hospital and an expert in SRHR, introduced fundamental concepts of sexual and reproductive health.

Her session debunked common myths, provided an understanding of the reproductive system, and explored the global and local landscapes of SRHR. `Every Pakistani man and woman should create awareness about consent and sexual and reproductive rights in their communities,` Dr Zaidi emphasised.

Samra Maqbool, public health professional and co-founder of Nisa Kahaniyan, a social enterprise dedicated to SRHR education, curated the workshop.

She stressed the importance of addressing the health issues of Pakistani youth, who constitute 64pc of the population, with one-third between the ages of 10 and 24.

She noted that SRHR was a sensitive topic in South Asia, often leading to misinformation and unsafe behaviours including the youth`s addiction to explicit content on the web.

`Workshops lilce these provide a safe space for youth to discuss and address health challenges, fostering better personal and professional lives,` Samra highlighted.

Hina Maqbool, a certified HR trainer, engaged participants in activities to understand their personality types, enhancing their communication skills to be better able to make an impact on SRHR awareness.

A practical session allowed participants to explore traits and characteristics, promoting self-awareness and interpersonal effectiveness.

Clinical Psychologist Tahreem Aurangzaib, who specialises in behavioural and emotional counselling, delivered a talk on effective communication for healthy relationships.

`Teaching youth effective communication is crucial for navigating sensitive SRHR topics like consent, boundaries, and decision-making, Tahreem highlighted.

She emphasised that these skills help prevent risks such as unintended pregnancies, STIs, and sexual violence, empowering youth to advocate for their well-being and mal(e informed sexual health decisions.

The workshop underscored the need for comprehensive policy reforms, enhanced education, and youth-friendly health services to address the significant SRHR challenges faced by Pakistani youth.

By fostering awareness and equipping young leaders with critical knowledge and skills, this initiative marks a significant step towards improving the health and well-being of future generations in Pakistan.

If these efforts are not sustained and expanded, the risk of ongoing health crises and socio-economic challenges will persist, ultimately hindering the nation`s development and prosperity.

Acknowledgement: Published in Dawn News on 24th June 2024.

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