Dr. Atif Ikram Butt
I have been able to bring innovations into social and behaviour change communication programming in Pakistan for promotion of reproductive health in general and family planning in specific. This includes a number of self-sustaining initiatives that I have conceptualised and been able to institutionalise. This includes launch of a 'citizen journalism' initiative, first in the region, with one of the biggest media groups of Pakistan in which people at the grassroots level will themselves generate news contents, also inducting a curriculum on entertainment-education in a leading fine arts institution of Pakistan as well as cultivating a national network of some of the most influential religious leaders actively engaged in promoting reproductive health rights all across Pakistan.
There is high incidence of abortion in Pakistan, estimated to be 50 per 1,000 women or 2.25 million abortions in a year. Majority of women seeking abortions had been using a method of birth control at the time of the unwanted pregnancy, implying that contraceptive methods had been incorrectly or inconsistently used. Majority of couples seeking an abortion have 4 or more children or already achieved their desired family size. Many couples are not primed to avail FP services at the the right time.
There is strong sone preference in Pakistan. Among women with 3 children, 60 per cent of those with 3 sons want to have no more children, as compared with only 21 per cent of those with 3 daughters. This coupled with a high ‘ideal family size’ for both women and men at four children makes family planning efforts extremely daunting. I have been part of the team that produced the very first commercial blockbuster feature film "Bol" [Speak up!] on the issue of son preference.
I believe Pakistan's biggest challenge is overcoming unmet need for family planning. Currently, one in every four married women of reproductive age have unmet need for family planning. This translates into more than six million women who would like to use family planning if it was available to them. In terms of knowledge, all women know at least one modern method and about three quarters know a traditional method. Increasing access to family planning services is a key to overcoming unmet need.
I'm cultivating a national network of prominent religious leaders to support the cause of FP. Alongside, I'm engaging print and television journalists through capacity strengthening, especially on rights-based reporting, on highlighting RH issues. In addition, I'm working towards creating a critical mass of film/TV scriptwriters equipped with the art and strategy of entertainment-education. My aim is to combine these forces into a national movement to demand for improved family planning service.