Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Pakistan's rising 'Taliban' hits women's health

Christina Lamb and Mohammed Shehzad, Peshawar

MALE doctors and technicians have been banned from carrying out ultrasound examinations and using electrocardiographs (ECG) on female patients by the Islamist government of Pakistan’s North West Frontier province in its latest step towards “Talibanisation”.

The ban effectively excludes all women from undergoing such crucial medical examinations as the province has only one female ECG technician and none trained in ultrasound.

“We think that men could derive sexual pleasure from women’s bodies while conducting ECG or ultrasound,” explained Maulana Gul Naseeb Khan, the provincial general secretary of the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), the six-party religious alliance which now governs the North West Frontier.

“Similarly some women could lure men under the pretext of ECG or ultrasound. Therefore to uphold the supreme values of Islam, the MMA has decided to impose the ban in line with the May 8 resolution of the province’s assembly that nothing repugnant to Islam will be allowed.”

The ban is the latest in a series of Taliban-style measures imposed by the MMA since its surprising victory last October after General Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan’s president, came under western pressure to allow elections.

The clerics have already banned public dancing and music, kite flying and satellite television. They have closed cinemas, photographic shops and beauty parlours, and have torn down billboards displaying female images.

The bans are disturbingly similar to those imposed by the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, which was intent on turning the clock back to the time of the prophet Muhammad in the 7th century.

Several MMA leaders were strong backers of the Taliban, running madrassas, or religious schools, that provided fighters to help Mullah Muhammad Omar, the Taliban leader.

In June the frontier government imposed sharia, or Islamic law, with penalties such as stoning to death, in defiance of Musharraf who denounced the so-called Talibanisation of his country and attacked MMA attempts to make women wear head-to-toe veils.

“This reflects shallow-mindedness,” he said in an interview. “We do not want a backward and intolerant Islam. If we follow the intolerant version of Islam we cannot progress.”

However, it was the Pakistan military that for years encouraged the growth of Islamic militant groups, using them to fight in Kashmir, or to provoke sectarian clashes, which military rulers used as an excuse to prolong their stay in power.

It is widely believed that the MMA was given a helping hand in last year’s elections, which backfired when the strong anti-Americanism in the province resulted in the religious parties doing far better than expected.

The province borders Afghanistan and there has been widespread outrage at Pakistan allowing American forces onto their land to search for Osama Bin Laden and members of the Al-Qaeda network.

The bazaars of the old city of Peshawar, the provincial capital, sell posters of Bin Laden and sweets and dates in boxes bearing his picture.

The ban on men carrying out ultrasound and ECGs means that women are now forced to travel outside the province to Rawalpindi, a long and costly journey, requiring their husbands to miss at least a day off work to accompany them.

“The so-called apostles of Islam are unaware of the facts and figures related to the dismal state of health in our country,” complained one surgeon in Peshawar.

He pointed out that not only are there no female ultrasound technicians in the North West Frontier province but also no female anaesthetists, dispensers or theatre technicians.

“Women are operated on in the presence of male staff. They are anaesthetised and undressed for surgery by men. Even if female surgeons operate on them, male staff are indispensable during the operation. If we started following the MMA’s orders then all the women will die in the operating theatre,” said the surgeon.

Human rights activists are concerned that the ban will result in more stillborn babies and deaths in pregnancy. Pakistan already has one of the world’s highest rates of deaths in pregnancy, with an estimated 30,000 women dying in childbirth each year.

Republished from:

1 comment: said...

skepticism and agnosticism?