“Spotlight on Women’s Health: Innovative Ways of Increasing Awareness through the Media” was a series of events Gawaahi hosted in August and September 2011 with Pakistan National Forum on Women’s Health (PNFWH) and the collaboration of United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). As it was Gawaahi’s first event, we were humbled and honoured to be part of a forum represented by Dr Shershah Syed of PNFWH.

Spotlight on Women's Health, Karachi

As you may know, Dr. Shershah Syed, also a Board Member of Gawaahi, is an eminent obstetrician and gynecologist who has devoted himself to treating the most disadvantaged women in Pakistan. Because of the nature of the condition, Obstetric Fistula is largely not talked about despite it being the most devastating of pregnancy-related disabilities. To explain, Fistula is caused by inadequate health care in the most underprivileged communities of the world. As patients of Fistula are frequently ostracized from society, the effects of the condition are both physically and emotionally long-lasting. Dr Shershah with his team at Koohi Goth Hospital ‘repairs’ these women for free. For his work, he has been profiled by journalists in Pakistan and the world over.

In Karachi, UNFPA was represented by Dr Faaria Ahsan and in Lahore by Dr Jameel Ahmad.

Spotlight on Women's Health, Karachi

The idea behind these two workshops held in Karachi and Lahore was to initiate a discussion between nonprofits and the media across different platforms on how to better present women’s health issues through the media. The invitees were handpicked by Gawaahi Executive Director, Naveen Naqvi to include media professionals who work in production capacities of the broadcast media, editors and health beat reporters in print journalism, and online journalists who write on development issues. Some of these were Erum Shahid, former head of the ARY Drama Department, Misbah Khalid, producer and filmmaker and Hafsah Syed, head of Features at DawnNews. Also on the guest list was Tasneem Ahmar, who has been working for decades on the Pakistan women-media relationship as the head of the media watchdog, Uks Research Center.

The programme began with the screening of a short film depicting the true story of a Fistula survivor, ‘Mae Jiyoungi Sar Uthha Kay’ made by Sheema Kirmani of Tehreek-e-Niswan. This was followed by a candid discussion on the challenges of highlighting women’s health in the media.

In the immediate, we were interested in some coverage on the increasingly common but underreported pregnancy-related disability, Obstetric Fistula. Much more important to us was to understand how in the long-term, nonprofits could make women’s health issues more appealing to the media for them to be able to sell these stories to advertisers, who we see and mainstream media networks concede to being more and more determining of programming. While broadcast is the most powerful and established medium in Pakistan, with our commitment to the online platform, Gawaahi took care to invite new media journalists to participate in the conversation. As Dr Jameel Ahmad of UNFPA pointed out in Lahore, the social and digital media are critical tools for advocacy when targeting policymakers.

We hope that we will be able to host many more such events that spotlight issues important to us.

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