Tea parties break down taboos in Pakistan
My name is Umm e Kalsoom. I’m 23-years-old and I live in the Muzaffarabad region of Pakistan. I started volunteering with Rahnuma, the Family Planning Association of Pakistan, two years ago. I realised that SRSH was being grossly neglected in our communities after I went to some awareness raising sessions and decided to contribute to the cause. I now run tea parties in my area. These tea parties are important to create a comfortable and open environment for girls and young women to share their SRH issues and concerns and also provide an opportunity to inspire young girls within the communities to mobilize other girls and women.
Through my work and involvement in the Girls’ Power Project, I have been able to create a trustworthy environment in the community to discuss matters related to SRH which are usually considered a taboo. I have gained the confidence of young girls and women to share their issues and discuss their SRHR concerns. Through these parties we have been able to develop a sense of confidence within these girls and women and empowered them to exercise their right to participation, expression of thought, acquire information, education and access services related to their health especially Sexual and Reproductive health without any discrimination.
At the beginning of this project the community was reluctant to participate. The girls and women had been raised to believe these issues should never been discussed with others. But because the tea parties provided a relaxed and open environment they were eventually able to win the community’s support and eventually girls found the confidence to share their issues.
I remember that in one tea party a 12 year-old-girl came to me at the end of the party and said “I don’t have any sister, from now on you are my elder sister and a friend with whom I can share my problems. Due to your education and information I have been able to come over my inferiority complex”.
The main issues that come up at the tea parties from my community are a lack of awareness, counselling, information and services related to sexual and reproductive especially when it comes to Hepatitis, HIV/AIDs, STIs and family planning. Other concerns are about the high prevalence and acceptability of early marriage, child marriage and sexual abuse. The women and girls who come to the tea parties are also worried about the lack of abortion services and the fact that it is very difficult to get contraceptives.
The tea parties have had a massive impact on me and my community. Without them women and girls in the community would not have realized that SRH issues are concerns and that it is their right to seek redress.
Engaging as a volunteer I have been able to acquire detailed information on SRHR. I am also empowered to make informed decisions about my life especially in terms of SRHR. If I ever have my own daughter I would like her to be a confident and empowered girl, who know and exercise’s her rights to make informed decision in her life.