Villayat Bibi had to fight hard to get medical treatment after she fled Pakistan's Swat Valley, heavily pregnant and bleeding. Here she tells her story.
"I was six months pregnant when the Taliban movement in Swat gained its full momentum. Sharia law was not new to us. However, Taliban rule was like a scary dream, especially for women, because we lost our freedom of movement and had to stay at home. Women in Swat were only able to leave their homes accompanied by a male relative, with their bodies hidden in veils.
As a pregnant woman, I was totally unable to seek any medical assistance. The Taliban closed the female health worker programme and destroyed our Basic Health Units (BHUs). Hundreds of lady health workers (LHWs), lady health visitors (LHVs) and female doctors left their jobs, which was a major blow to the health of mothers and children in the Swat Valley. Even in the main hospital, no lady doctor was available. Furthermore, the female patients could not visit male doctors.
I was in the ninth month of my pregnancy when the military began a major operation against the insurgents. There was heavy shelling and gunfire. My husband went out to find help and told us to be ready to leave. However, he never came back and there was no other male in the family who could go and find him.
The next morning we left on foot, simply following other people with no idea when the journey would end. I was worried about my husband and was scared that my children would also be lost. I experienced continuous bleeding and had to rest frequently. We finally reached Mardan, but we possessed no documents to prove our identity as internally displaced people. Hence, we were denied a place in the refugee camp.
Ultimately, Amina Bibi, a local religious preacher, gave us shelter. However, she strictly forbade me to go out of the house and consult any doctor, telling me that the Quran orders women to stay at home in order to maintain family harmony.
Raffaqat, a very kind local councillor, tried to convince Amina Bibi to allow me to see a doctor. Finally, she urged me to leave Amina's place, but because Amina was very kind to my children, I thought that even if I died, she would take care of my children.
Raffaqat made a last attempt and was able to reach a senior religious scholar, Maqssod Ahmad Salafi. He explained to Amina that her views were not in keeping with the true Islamic teachings, as Islam is a liberal religion and that she should assist me in getting medical treatment.
I heaved a sigh of relief when Amina Bibi allowed me to go to the doctor. Three days later, I gave birth to a weak but beautiful baby girl, Umeed. Her name means 'hope'."
|"If I was the president of Pakistan, I would order that excellent free treatment and facilities should be provided to women during pregnancy and childbirth. I also wish that some day every woman in our country will be educated and empowered."
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