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OPINION

Healthy women are cornerstones of healthy societies

Malnutrition is the direct cause of about 300,000 deaths per year and is directly responsible for more than half of all deaths in women, young girls and children.

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Women are the heart of the family and a family is the basic unit of civilised society. If women are emotionally, physically and spiritually healthy than the society will be healthy as well. If women are broken, unhealthy and depressed then society will be unhealthy and depressed as well.

It’s a reality, women who are healthy are more able to bear healthy infants and raise healthy children. Women who are physically, mentally and emotionally healthy are more able to raise their children to be decent examples, good citizens, and to inspire and encourage them for better education.

While part of this is due to their reproductive and sexual health needs, they also have more chronic health issues such as cardiovascular diseases, cancer, mental illnesses, diabetes, osteoporosis and anemia. Women have a physiological process called menstruation occurring every month in specific days, some women suffer from heavy periods menorrhagia (A flow of more than 80 ml (or 16 soaked sanitary products) per menstrual period is considered menorrhagia).

This physiological process may bring women to have iron deficiency anemia. In most of developing countries more than one third of women have anemia. Blood contains iron within red blood cells. Women with heavy periods are at higher risk of iron deficiency anemia because they lose blood during menstruation. Moreover, slow chronic blood loss within the body, such as from a peptic ulcer, a hiatal hernia, a colon polyp or colorectal cancer also can cause iron deficiency anemia in women.

Every woman needs to increase their calcium intake to reduce the risk of osteoporosis and other calcium deficiency diseases. The decline in the level of hormone estrogen during menopause reasons a woman’s bones to thin faster. Hypoparathyroidism (a hormonal disorder) may also become a reason of calcium deficiency disease. In most of developing countries, majority of women are suffering from thyroid diseases due to iodine deficiency. Moreover, getting enough iodine is especially important for pregnant and breastfeeding women, as they have higher needs. An iodine deficiency may cause serious side effects, especially for the baby, such as stunted growth and developmental problems.

Goiter is also more common in women than in men and especially in women before menopause. Athyroid gland produces thyroid hormone, which controls many activities in body. Diseases of the thyroid gland makes it to produce either too much or too little of the hormone. Depending on the amount of hormone produced by thyroid gland most of women may often feel restless or tired, or they may lose or gain weight, because women are at higher risk than men to have thyroid diseases, especially right after pregnancy and after menopause. When thyroid gland becomes overactive and makes too much thyroid hormone, that person is said to be hyperthyroid.

The most common reason of hyperthyroidism in women is the autoimmune condition, generally known as Graves’ disease, where antibodies target the gland and cause it to speed up hormone production. It is caused by irregular and abnormal immune system response that causes the thyroid gland to produce too much thyroid hormone. Graves’ disease is most common in women over age of 20 years.

In developing and under developed countries majority of women spending most of time at their homes, so their exposure to sunlight is very limited, which caused deficiency of vitamin D. In one recent study, Women with vitamin D deficiency were nearly twice as likely to experience bone pain in their legs, ribs or joints compared to those with blood levels in the normal range.

Low blood levels of vitamin D is a major contributing factor to bone pain and lower back pain. Different case studies have shown that very low blood levels can cause fatigue that has a severe negative effect on quality of life. In most of cases, women who complained of chronic daytime fatigue and headaches were found to have very low vitamin D blood level. Symptoms of bone pain and muscle weakness means patient may have a vitamin D deficiency.

Women with low blood levels of the vitamin D are at higher risk of cardiovascular disease, cognitive impairment in older ladies, severe attacks of asthma and cancer. Vitamin D deficiency leads to secondary hyperparathyroidism due to low serum calcium. This condition can result in high bone turnover, increased bone resorption and the development of osteopenia, leading to rickets in children and both osteomalacia and osteoporosis in women.

Vitamin D could play a major role in the prevention and treatment of a number of different diseases, including type1 and type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, hypertension, glucose intolerance, and multiple sclerosis.

Pregnancyis 200 to 300 times deadlier in developing and underdeveloped world if there is lesser gap between pregnancies, malnutrition and poor antenatal facilities. At the same time in developing countries neonatal mortality is 14 times higher than developed world.

According to research from the University of British Columbia, when moms wait at least 12 to 18 months to get pregnant again, both they and their babies have a lower risk of encountering health problems. In a recent research it is proved that all infants had a greater risk of health problems if moms got pregnant less than a year after giving birth to their last child. Those women are at higher risk of spontaneous preterm birth or giving birth before 37 weeks of pregnancy.

Compared with babies conceived 18 months to 23 months after previous pregnancy, research shows that a short gap between pregnancies may mean your baby’s more likely to be born premature, have a low birth weight, small for gestational age. All risks are particularly increased if a woman have a gap of six months or less. It is understandable that body needs time to recover from the stress of last pregnancy and to replenish its nutrients.

If previous baby was born by caesarean section it is advised to have a gap of at least one to two years before becoming pregnant again. This is especially important if woman want a vaginal birth. If gap between pregnancies is more than 2 years then there’s only a very low risk of caesarean scar tearing during a vaginal birth, but this risk is increased significantly if the gap between pregnancies is less than six months.

Majority of womenin developing world are mostly malnourished, having protein-energy malnutrition and micronutrient deficiencies. This continues to be a major health burden in developing countries. It is worldwide the major risk factor for illness and death, with millions of pregnant women and young children particularly affected.

Deficiencies of iron, iodine, vitamin D, A and zinc are the main manifestations of malnutrition in women living in developing and underdeveloped countries. In these communities, a high prevalence of poor diet and infectious disease regularly unites into a brutal circle.

Although treatment protocols for severe malnutrition have in recent years become more efficient, but majority of women, especially in rural areas, have little or no access to formal health services and are never seen in such basic health providing units. There is serious need for interventions to prevent protein-energy malnutrition in women through promoting food supplementation schemes for breast-feeding mothers, whereas micronutrient deficiencies would best be addressed through food-based plans such as dietary variations through home gardens and small livestock like chickens, eggs, milk and yogurt. The fortification of salt with iodine has been a global success story, but other micronutrient supplementation schemes have yet to reach vulnerable female populations sufficiently.

To be more effective, all such steps and interventions need to be associated with nutrition-education campaigns and health interventions. To achieve the hunger and malnutrition related developmental goals, we need to address poverty, which is clearly associated with the insecure supply of food and nutrition in under developed areas of developing countries.

We should keep in mind that malnutrition in women continues to be a major public health problem throughout the developing world, particularly in south Asia and Africa. Due to gender discrimination women there are frequently deficient in macronutrients and micronutrients or both.The high prevalence of bacterial and parasitic diseases in women living in under developed areas of developing countries contributes greatly to malnutrition there.

Similarly, malnutrition increases one’s susceptibility and severity to infections, and is thus a major component of illness and death from diseases. Malnutrition and undernourishment are the major important risk factors for the burden of disease in developing countries. Malnutrition is the direct cause of about 300,000 deaths per year and is directly responsible for more than half of all deaths in women, young girls and children. Poor nutrition in women and girls means they are more likely to suffer from infectious diseases. So, good food, essential vitamins, minerals and proper nutrition is a key component of empowering women and girls.

Dr Faisal Khan is currently practicing in Saudi Arabia and can be reached at drfaisalkhanarticle@gmail.com.

OPINION

Some progress in Pakistan this week

From many perspectives, this was an eventful week for Pakistan

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As the monsoon rains lashed across the country, amid pounding inflation and protesting traders, Pakistan witnessed important developments this week. Though most incidents will have long term impacts which are expected to unfold with time, their significance at present can also be not denied.

ICJ orders consular access to Yadav, rejects Indian plea: (more…)

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CULTURE & ARTS

The Mystery Colour Pink Beholds

Colour stereotype is creation of our own societal values

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Pink has long been associated with girls, so where does this association come from?

Everything for a girl is pink, or will have at least a hint of pink. Starting from her nursery, toys, dresses to lunch box, school bag, pink is bombarded on girls.

There are a number of ways through which colours are imposed upon children. It begins when the baby is not even born. The phenomenal advancement in technology and prenatal testing, now makes it possible for parents to find out the sex of their still-not-born babies. This allows parents to decorate the nurseries in colours that they think are best suited with their newborn’s gender. It is the first step towards colour imposition.

It won’t be wrong to say that a baby girl is born in a pink world. It is this colour that she would find all around her after she opens her eyes for the first time. The room shading, dresses that she wears, toys she plays with and even birthday cakes she gets, are all pink. It’s not the parents only, this colour specification has become so real that new born gifts also comply with it. Visit a store for newborn accessories and the first question that is asked is about the gender of the baby. Even story books and children’s cartoons do their best to teach individuals gender specific behaviour . Barbie, Hello Kitty, My Little Pony n Friend are all girls’ favourite cartoons, painted in pink. Even the adventurous Dora wears a pink tee. Watching them, young girls associate themselves with the colour.

Marketing strategies that brands use further establish the colour identification for gender. It’s a psychological factor that brands exploit to leap their sales. They strictly follow with ‘pink for girls and blue for boys’ rule and make sure their customers comply.

Studies show that after the age of two, children begin to understand gender specific roles and girls choose pink over other colours to identify theirs. Professor of Gender and Culture at the UK’s Leeds University, Ruth Holliday, states that “Even very young girls understand that pink things are for them. In experiments where guns were painted pink and My Little Ponies were painted black and made to look spiky, three-year-old children assumed the gun was a girls’ toy and the pony a boys’ one. The colour rather than the function determined gender appeal.”

Colour preference isn’t biological, it’s more of a human made marvel. Girls and boys are both born with the similar arrangement of biological composition, the only difference being X & Y chromosomes. It’s not that girls have a pink chromosome or a pink strand of DNA that compels them to like pink more. And if we look at historical perspective, the findings are interesting.

History suggests that before the 1900s, babies were usually dressed in white regardless of gender. There were no differentiation amongst them on the basis of their colour preferences. If there was any, it was quite opposite from what it is today. An article in the 1918 issue of Ladies Home Journal reads that “the generally accepted rule is pink for boys and blue for girls; the reason is that pink being a decided and stronger colour is more suitable for boys, while blue which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girls”. Then what brought the switch over?

Anya Helbert, a researcher at University of Newcastle, proposed that women prefer hues of red more because traditionally they have been more exposed to the colour by gathering fruits. Other studies regarding this topic cite some events that gave rise to the present colour enforcement. One such event is World War II, where due to the blue coloured uniform worn by soldiers, blue colour became associated with masculinity.

Similarly, in the 1940s, Think Movement tried to convince girls to embrace their feminism. This movement urged women to embrace their womanhood, with the name tag with pink, the colour naturally corresponding to women.

This colour coding creates a stereotype that stays entrenched in the minds of children even after they grow. They identify themselves with specific colour that not only limits their freedom but also bounds them to act in the ways society tells them to. This kills their imagination and creativity and limits their choices. One of the disastrous implications of this colour stereotyping is that it affects self-esteem. The very basic attributes of pink colour are that it’s pretty, polite, catchy and sensitive. When a girl is told throughout her lifetime that she has to be the manifestation of this colour to look more ‘girl like’, she tries to incorporate these attributes into her personality. The same is for boys, the tormenting and bullying that accompanies wearing pink is staggering to the point that boys, mostly avoid the colour even if they like it.

Angela Weyers, Style and Colour consultant comments that, pink is assumed as a sign of “weakness and a lack of intellectual rigour” and advises women to actually not wear it to work in the corporate world, as they are less likely to be taken seriously. This, along with other stigmas surrounding the color, make it a cliché.

Now when we have understood that colour stereotype is creation of our own societal values, we have to understand this as a societal issue. There is no such thing as real-man or real-woman. And pink has literally nothing to do with a woman. Both men and women are humans with no supernatural specifications and they should be treated that way. Parents, educational institutes and media can play their role in this regard. Rather than fabricating pink and blue norms they need to be responsible in raising individuals. Let pink and blue be treated as colours only.

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OPINION

Dismays and Delights: How Pakistan fared this week?

Such is the course of time, that humans, after mourning a loss, prepare for the next outcome.

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This week in Pakistan was disappointing, to say the least. From the fiasco in the World cup match to the murder of a blogger in Islamabad, the list of dismays is long. India’s positive response to hold talks with Pakistan seemed the only silver lining in the dark clouds of dooms, yet it was quickly rebuffed by India as “fake news”.

It pains as well as amuses me that fans of cricket in Pakistan still remain die hard to their team. Its a different thing to be a cricket buff and another to be supportive of your team, for its been a while that Pakistan’s cricket team pulled a feat worth praise.

Pakistani Cricket Team captain Sarfaraz Ahmed (L), Indian Cricket Team captain Virat Kohli

One did not even need to switch on the TV or check updates on phone on the mess which Pakistan was in its World Cup match against India. The memes did the job pretty well, an area in which Pakistanis’ talent and sense of humour is worth appreciating.

Starting from the mind boggling decision of choosing to field after winning the toss, to poor bowling and miserable fielding (as usual), I can only say that the fans of Pakistani cricket team were very courageous to stick with their support through out the match. In comparison, was the highly professional and progressive Indian team, which showed true characteristics of first class cricket. It was no surprise that Pakistani cricket icon Wasim Akram showed his confidence in India as a player even before the match started.

A Pak-India interaction on a different level received an uplift, when the re-elected Prime Minister Modi of India, finally responded in positive to a series of letters written by his Pakistani counterpart, Imran Khan.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (L), Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan

Since early this year, both countries have experienced most severe ties, even reaching the brink of war. The Pulwama attack in Indian held Kashmir triggered a spate of exchanges of words as well as arms. After an informal meeting between the foreign ministers of the two countries at the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), Pakistan’s allowance for India to use its airspace for Prime Minister Modi for the SCO meeting of heads of states, Modi’s preference to still fly using another, alternate route while refusing to rub shoulders with Khan at the conference, the ice seemed to thaw.

However, Pakistani media’s interpretation of Modi’s written response to Khan that India had agreed to resume dialogue, was refuted by Indian foreign ministry.

External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar

“The letters only reiterated India’s old position that it wants normal and cooperative relations with all countries in South Asia (including Pakistan) and that it was important to create an environment free of terror and violence for it. There was no mention of any sort of dialogue with Pakistan,” responded the ministry’s spokesperson to The Times of India.

A similar exchange of letters between Pakistan’s foreign minister Qureshi and his newly appointed Indian counterpart, Jaishankar, was also explained as a mere reply. The hope of resuming of dialogues between the two countries was quashed.

So was the life of Muhammad Bilal Khan, a famous 22-year-old Pakistani blogger, who was stabbed to death in Islamabad, sparking outrage among Pakistanis.

Blogger Muhammad Bilal Khan was murdered in Islamabad

Khan was known for his critical comments on religious issues. He also spoke about the disappearance of activists and journalists. Khan’s shocking death is pertinent in the context that he had a following of thousands on Twitter, YouTube as well as Facebook. Human Rights Minister Shireen Mazari has assured of investigation by the government.

Perhaps, a not so highlighted and the lone positive news one could find was the approval of the initial draft of the Zainab Alert, Response and Recovery Bill 2019 by a Parliamentary body. The bill has recommendations for rigorous imprisonment until death for the sexual assault and murder of children.

Photo Credit: AFP

The recommendations are now to be discussed by the National Assembly Standing Committee on Human Rights. Once passed by parliament, the bill will pave way for the setting up of Zainab Alert, Response and Recovery Agency (ZARRA), where missing child cases will be reported to generate an automatic alert. It will also introduce a response and recovery mechanism for missing children.

A draft of the ICT Rights of Persons with Disability Bill has also been approved with recommendations concerning the registration of people with disabilities, reforms to address their grievances and procedures to address their complaints.

While unexplained deaths and disappearances of activists remains a worrying issue, some decision making for missing and abused children as well as disabled persons is a progress in the human rights of country.

Other sectors are eagerly looked upon for some positive news. The nation’s favourite sports of cricket comes back at the turn of the week with anticipation.

The week, which started miserably with Pakistan’s loss against India in the World Cup match, has ended with hopes and fears for the next contest between Pakistan and South Africa. Such is the course of time, that humans, after mourning a loss, prepare for the next outcome. A comeback by Pakistan in the World Cup could raise hopes for optimism in the week that is to begin.

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