Three days for a media training workshop in Karachi seemed too short, but in Pakistan’s Sindh province where Karachi is located, most journalists cannot spend more time than that away from their newsrooms. So, three days it was, with a great lineup of speakers describing the state of family planning and reproductive health in the country’s second most populous province and explaining what those issues have to do with development.
At the outset, as a trainer, it was clear that I had stepped into something akin to the Tower of Babel, with English the least spoken language among the 27 journalists, Urdu the most common, and Sindhi somewhere in between. So, Urdu, sprinkled with English for my benefit, became the lingua franca of the workshop.
The three days focused on Pakistan’s commitments as part of the Family Planning 2020 movement to improve access to and use of family planning, the goals for which have been set for each province. Sindh is the first of Pakistan’s four provinces to develop a Costed Implementation Plan (CIP), which is a roadmap for reaching the goals by 2020. Though the plan has been in writing for more than a year, many of the journalists were not familiar with it. Nor were they familiar with a related concept known as the “demographic dividend,” which is the economic growth that can follow demographic changes spawned by decreases in fertility and deaths, provided the right policies are put in place.
A couple of very engaging speakers unpacked the CIP for the journalists and explained what Pakistan needs to do to achieve a demographic dividend, which includes increasing the use of contraception to further reduce the fertility rate. Other presenters provided them with Sindh-specific data on maternal and infant deaths, contraceptive use, unmet need for family planning, and unintended pregnancies.
About 30 percent of currently married Sindhi women use either a traditional or modern method of contraception, and that rate has been stalled at that level for more than a decade. Around one in five women don’t want to become pregnant but are not using family planning, and there’s a glaring difference between contraceptive use in urban areas (43 percent) and rural areas (17 percent).
The speakers’ passions for improving reproductive health in Sindh kept the journalists engaged throughout the presentations and generated robust discussions. Many story ideas emerged, and much of the last day was spent giving the journalists some practice in pitching stories to editors.
However, some of the journalists expressed concern about how much of the information they would be able to get published or broadcast because the topics are so sensitive. One of the journalists expressed frustration that condom ads could be shown on TV but the news media had to navigate carefully around family planning issues. Another reporter said stories about adolescents and contraception were routinely spiked because they were seen as promoting sex.
Nevertheless, they were eager to see how far they could go in reporting on these issues. By the end of April 2017, those who have tackled the topics well—in accurate detail and effectively—will be selected to participate in a five-month fellowship and receive mentoring as well as a stipend to cover travel and other reporting costs.
I will be working alongside Zofeen Ebrahim, a Karachi-based journalist who did the lion’s share of the work organizing and facilitating the workshop, and Farahnaz Zahidi Moazzam, also a Karachi-based journalist, to help the fellowship reporters cover family planning and other sensitive reproductive health issues. Zofeen and Farah are alumnae of PRB’s Women’s Edition project.
PRB organized the workshop under the Health Policy Plus project implemented by Palladium and funded by the United States Agency for International Development.