Even if the Pakistani constitution has stipulated equality between men and women since 1973, the reality in the predominantly Muslim country is very different. Life in Pakistan is shaped by old customs and traditions. Many girls are married very young. Forced marriage is not only a tradition among followers of the Muslim faith, but rather arose from a common cultural tradition that also lives on in the few Christian families. Women do not play a major role in Pakistan’s public life. They are rarely seen in the street and when they are, they are usually accompanied by their husbands. The Taliban’s influence is still great, especially in the areas bordering Afghanistan. Violence and oppression plague the lives of women there.
But Pakistan’s history was also shaped by its remarkable women: Benazir Bhutto was the first woman to head an Islamic state. She was Prime Minister from 1988 to 1997 and, among many other causes, also strove to advance the rights of women in her country. One young girl who recently made history is Malala Yousafzai. She fought for girls’ right to an education and, as an internationally known blogger, drew attention to their grievances. Malala survived an attack by the Taliban seriously injured and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014, at the age of 17.
Women with an advanced education are still a minority in Pakistan. A good education is the prerequisite for holding a professional job and thus leading a self-determined life. In the field of medicine, women are especially welcome in Pakistan, as women are not allowed to see a male doctor.
Since 2016 Prof. Ashraf Ganatra has been leading our aid project in Pakistan. In his team he relies on the support of three women: the surgeon Dr. Sumera, orthodontist Dr. Qurat-ul-Ain and speech therapist Ms.Sobia Ashfaq. Prof. Ganatra is also committed to helping young women. The young surgeon Dr. Tahera is a qualified Maxillofacial surgeon, interested in learning Cleft surgery. She is regularly attending operating sessions, absorbing the tips and tricks of the cleft craft under the direct supervision of Prof Ganatra.
Medical students also off and on become part of the cleft mission and help the poor cleft patients by counselling and looking after their petty needs. They also have access to the operating roonms to get a direct insight into this specialist discipline.
We are very pleased that our project in Pakistan, thanks to Prof. Ganatra’s commitment, is making a contribution to strengthening the role of women in Pakistan in addition to the medical aid it provides.