Together, Siblings Involve Men to Raise Awareness and Increase Family Planning Clients in Gujranwala, Pakistan

Jan 22, 2024

Contributed by Tanzil ur Rehman and Dr. Ammara Nasir

Together, Siblings Involve Men to Raise Awareness and Increase Family Planning Clients in Gujranwala, Pakistan

Jan 22, 2024

Contributed by Tanzil ur Rehman and Dr. Ammara Nasir

Lady Health Supervisor Shahnaz Baji (center) with TCI City Manager, Dr. Ammara Nasir (right), and TCI Communication Manager Aiman Haroon (left).

In Pakistan, family planning can be a sensitive and private topic. The Population Welfare Department runs awareness campaigns, but discussions about family planning are usually limited to immediate families.

In areas like Gujranwala, where The Challenge Initiative (TCI) is actively supporting local government efforts to expand family planning services, there’s a remarkable champion named Shahnaz Baji, known as “Sister Shahnazi” in her community, an urban slum in BhatiKay, Gujranwala. Shahnaz is a 30-year-old Lady Health Supervisor (LHS) and head of the LHS’s union in Gujranwala, who has conducted integrated family planning outreaches in her home. Due to her commitment and dedication to her work, she never married, considering that her in-laws may not have allowed her to continue her work with the same pace and commitment.

When TCI began supporting Gujranwala, Shehnaz received training to become a master coach. She learned that engaging men in family planning discussions can significantly impact individual decisions by couples as well as the family’s overall well-being. Male engagement efforts involve open and respectful communication among men to help conquer challenges such as myths and misconceptions about family planning. These discussions help participants make informed decisions about reproductive health and family size.

But Shahnaz faced criticism in her community for interacting with men while counseling women and their husbands about the benefits of family planning. So she reached out to her brother Akhter to help engage men. With support from TCI, he underwent training and began counseling male partners alongside his sister. This not only avoided criticism from conservative family members but also improved the dissemination of sensitive information about family planning.

Akhter, who has been married for the last five years and has one child, is a family planning user.

We belong to a conservative area where the majority do not believe in just words unless you set an example by yourself. I have only one child, and I am focusing on his good education and upbringing; considering my financial situation, one child is enough for my family.”

Shahnaz asked her brother to accompany her whenever integrated family planning outreaches were organized with TCI support. Together, they increased the dissemination of family planning information as well as discussions about it within the community. Shahnaz shared:

 During my outreach visits, my brother goes with me and discusses family planning with all the men in surrounding areas. These rigid families are often reluctant to discuss contraception, but as my brother stands by me, so FP clients and locals often find it motivating and encouraging that both brother and sister are available to provide information.”

Since Akhter became involved, there has been a significant increase in the number of family clients, with couples now directly engaging the siblings to discuss family planning choices. BhatiKay had served an average of 100 clients per month before TCI became engaged in June 2023, but is now seeing double or triple that amount each month.

Akhter explained his approach to counseling community members:

 I frequently begin discussing the socio-economic situation of the family and how an increase in family members may result in additional expenses and inability to provide quality of life and care. Most families live below the poverty line, and they recognize the importance of family planning after we pay two to three regular visits.”

Shahnaz and her brother Akhter at a satellite camp in Gujranwala.

Shahnaz and Akhter’s joint efforts have become a rare example of siblings advocating for family planning in Pakistan. They work to raise awareness, dispel myths and provide information about family planning methods, encouraging informed decision-making about family size and spacing between pregnancies. Their gender-intentional approach has set an example of how male family members can become advocates for family planning issues, ultimately improving the health and well-being of individuals and families.

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