A haven for militant Islamic extremists, Pakistan has recently become one of the most dangerous countries in the world. It struggles under a corrupt political regime and a system that largely depends on feudal customs. Women face an array of problems including gender discrimination, which stems from birth. In most families a son is preferable to a daughter. A woman often has no choice in a partner, and risks being killed or disfigured by her own family for dishonoring them. In rural regions girls are not often allowed to attend school and receive an education. Girls are married at a very young age, which often results in frequent pregnancies and contributes to a high maternal mortality rate.
I visited Pakistan for the first time in November 2009 with the intent of addressing these women's rights issues. Soon after meeting Dr. Shershah Syed, a gynecologist and women's rights activist, I decided to focus my attention solely on maternal mortality and fistula. Seeing the challenges that these women were facing with my own eyes made me realize how important it is to tell their story.
Pakistan loses one woman every thirty minutes to preventable complications of pregnancy and childbirth, while about three thousand cases of obstetric fistula occur each year. One in every eleven children born in Pakistan dies before his or her fifth birthday. It's estimated that around 52% of women in Pakistan give birth at home, usually without trained birth attendants. Young women die because they have no access to sufficiently equipped medical facilities, or because the traditional midwife (or dai) doesn't refer the women to a hospital when complications arise. In a place where poverty is rife, most families can't afford the medicine or care that they require. Heartbreakingly, most of the deaths and complications surrounding childbirth are treatable.