In Pakistan, women’s reproductive health is shrouded in stigma and taboo. Dr Tahira Kazmi, a gynaecologist with more than 18 years of experience, unpacked some of the issues and stigma around reproductive health as part of a series Gynae Feminism: Conversations of Women’s Health and Self-Care in a podcast with Uks founder and Director Tasneem Akhtar.
Gynae feminism is an ideology that gynaecological health is a basic human right. The aim of this series is to not only spread awareness regarding reproductive health but also inculcate vocabulary that women in our country lack to describe their bodily ills and pains.
Speaking about the beginning of her journey as a gynae feminist, Dr Kazmi narrated an incident. She used to write blogs on various topics until one day, a family member mentioned they are experiencing “painful periods.” “Why shouldn’t I write on periods?” she wondered and wrote her next blog on irregularities of periods.
“The first blog on it got so much reaction…I have a problem, if someone will try to stop me by force, I get encouraged to do it more,” she added. She continued writing on reproductive health despite the backlash, often in the shape of character assassination and slander.
Periods are not only a topic of her blogs. According to Dr Kazmi, the most common problem that women come to her with is menstruation. “In any gynaecologist’s clinic, 80 per cent of the issues are related to periods,” she explained. This is because girls from a very young age experience menstruation that continues for a major part of their lives, till they get to menopause.
“A young girl from interior Punjab came to my house and she used leaves [in place of sanitary napkins],” she explained, drawing from her own experiences and events she witnessed.
Akhtar asked the gynaecologist for advice regarding cervical, breast and uterus cancers, illnesses majority of the population shy away from talking about. “There are three things women should religiously adopt in their lives if they want to stay alive — regularly get pap smears, mammographies and transvaginal scans,” she stressed.
Knowing one’s own body is paramount. “Every time your period is irregular, your body is telling you there’s an issue inside,” the doctor said. She emphasised the need for women, especially educated ones, to learn about their conditions and symptoms before going to the doctor. “They should cross-question the doctor…they must have basic information,” she stressed.
When asked about the prejudice and sexism present in family planning policies, where it’s mostly women who bear the burden of birth control, she responded by saying that in all her 18-year-long career, she has “never seen a man go towards getting a vasectomy.”
According to her, men have misconceptions about vasectomy that their sexual activity will be affected or they will become impotent as a result of the medical procedure. However, none of these are true. “The policy-makers are men,” she said, concluding that this is a “global issue”.