Express Tribune just released the latest statistics for maternal mortality in Pakistan–the highest in South Asia. It reminded me of an old post of mine, still just as relevant although the statistics are probably outdated by now.
We used to eat out frequently when I was a child. Those were simpler times, when going out did not necessarily entail the risk of getting bombed, murdered, kidnapped, looted or, as in the case of the Taliban-infested areas, all four.
As we drove home after one such trip, it struck me how much parents did for their children without asking anything in return.
“How could anyone ever pay back their parents for everything they’ve done?” I wondered as we stopped near the neighborhood bakery.
The area looked desolate, but it was still safe enough for my younger siblings to go buy ice cream.
“It’s a lot to pay back for,” I remember my parents agreeing, “But that’s why God has given such status to parents. A son pays them back by taking care of them and supporting them in their old age.”
I listened eagerly.
“It’s even easier for girls! A girl repays her parents when she becomes a mother herself.”
I sat back, troubled, holding my ice cream as my siblings settled down around me and my father continued the discussion with my mother, marveling at how much simpler things were for girls.
“But what if a girl doesn’t want to become a mother?” I asked.
“That’s why they are supposed to have them. It’s the way things are meant to be.” my parents replied, closing the topic.
I began to eat, though still perplexed. The way things were meant to be, I couldn’t help feeling, was somehow not very fair.
A boy and a girl are both born in debt to their parents.
For being given care and resources, a boy repays them with his own.
But for receiving life, a girl must pay back with life.
And given that childbirth is 300 times more dangerous in developing countries, given that according to estimates 1 woman dies in labor every 20 minutes in Pakistan, given that access to and quality of health facilities is dismal throughout the country even where religious zealots haven’t banned, given that a woman’s use of contraception is a man’s decision, given that any son she bears must become her hoped-for savior and any daughter she bears must inherit her debt…it is usually her own life that she pays with.
It makes me feel like a bleedin’ uterus.
–F, “Bonded Labor” (10th Feb 2009)