It made me so upset this morning to read this AFP report on three men who have fathered 96 children in Pakistan. The utter disregard for their wives’ well-being, the toxic masculinity in these men’s bragging, and the cavalier confidence that someone else — God, the government — would provide for their battalion of children made me wonder if there is any hope for our fragile nation at all.
We already grapple with a shortage of resources, malnutrition leading to stunting, and educating this fast-growing country’s children. Why have we not been able to solve the problem of population control, which is not against the religion of this country’s majority? What other excuse can there be for such an abandoning of personal responsibility, social responsibility, and governmental responsibility?
We always like to say that we humans are superior to animals. I can’t see what’s superior about men fathering as many children as they can manage out of their wives’ worn-out bodies, then discarding them for younger, fresher models. It very much reminds me of the paragraph in Paulina Porzikova’s NYT essay on feminism:
“In Czechoslovakia, women came home from a long day of work to cook, clean and serve their husbands. In return, those women were cajoled, ignored and occasionally abused, much like domestic animals. But they were mentally unstable domestic animals, like milk cows that could go berserk you if you didn’t know exactly how to handle them.”
This is exactly how the majority of men treat women in Pakistan. And then they expect to be able to use their wives as receptacles and incubators because it’s just the way things are meant to be.
The answer lies in the AFP article, where Aisha Sarwari says: “Access to birth control for women can be a game changer… Ultimately the impact is that there are more resources to go around … Empowered women have fewer children, and this creates a mindset that leads to prosperity within families that is likely to be emulated across communities.”
But without educating women about birth control, how can this change any games, especially the oldest one in the world? Says Zeba A. Sathar (country director for UN Population Control) “The need is for clear information about the methods available, how they work, their possible side effects and where to get them. That is missing,”
Mention sex education, or health and reproductive education as we call it here in Pakistan, and conservatives scream as if you’ve proposed automatic castration at birth. Conservatives will tell anyone (whether they want to hear it or not) that “sex education” means telling children how to have sex. They brush aside educating girls and young women about how to take care of their bodies through sex and pregnancy.
They claim to do this for many reasons: it’s un-Islamic or vulgar to talk about these topics, or they want to protect children from “gandi baatey” (dirty talk). But the truth iis is based on sexism – they fear that their unchecked rights to sexual pleasure, and the opportunity to prove their virility through siring sons will be unduly affected by health concerns for women.
Education about sex, reproduction, pregnancy, and maternal health needs to start when girls hit puberty because that’s when they start getting married in Pakistan. It also needs to start at boys at the same age because it is important for them to be as well-educated as their sisters in human biology. But it clearly needs to continue to both women and men, because there have been such gaps in our knowledge for so many years. It will take several generations to catch up at this rate.
Now, if only the men of Pakistan would get out of the way.