Saba Ismail

Saba Ismail - 2016 Nominee
Position: Executive Director
Organization: Aware Girls
She is an advocate for women’s sexual and reproductive health rights in Pakistan. She cofounded “Sahailee” hotline that provides information on safe medical abortion, contraception and post partum hemorrhage. It was the first hotline in Asia – Kiran Fida, Provincial Director at Aware Girls
Describe your contributions to and achievements in family planning.

I co-founded Aware Girls; a young women led organization working for women’s sexual and reproductive health rights. To reduce unsafe abortion and raise awareness about FP in Pakistan and Bangladesh I established “Sahailee” Hotline saving the lives of thousands of women. I have worked to reduce the taboo and stigma attached to abortion and FP among community leaders, communities and service providers. Referral directories have been developed identifying the existing services. I have educated 7,000 women about HIV/AIDS prevention and established 100 AIDS discussion clubs to reduce the stigma and discrimination and educated IDPs women on FP. I have advocated to position SRHR among the priorities in the National Development Framework and in regional and global negotiations in post 2015 agenda.

What sparked your passion for family planning?

According the Guttmacher Institute, 890,000 women have unsafe abortions every year in Pakistan, 30,000 women die because of pregnancy related issues. These women die because there are no proper information and services about FP. My motivation is to save the lives of these women. Once I came across a person who had 5 children and was not willing to use any FP services, he said children are like flowers and the gardens with more flowers look beautiful, It was the moment I decided to work on FP.

What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced in your family planning efforts, and what have you done to overcome it?

After the launch of the hotline I faced opposition from religious and political groups. I have faced death threats from the extremists groups because of this work but the hotline has continued to deliver the information to the women who are in need. I have developed security policy and security measures to overcome the challenges keeping the location and persons of hotline anonymous.

What is your (country/region/city)’s biggest challenge in family planning, and how can it be addressed?

Talking about FP is a taboo, the society is extremely conservative, the cultural barriers limit women from FP, more power is given to the religious extremists and the service providers are judgmental. FP services for unmarried women are almost impossible to receive. The laws are restrictive and there is less investment in FP in Pakistan rising the maternal deaths and health complications. It can be addressed by investment in women and girls, changing the mindset of people and investment in FP.

What do you want to accomplish in the next 5 years?

I want to continue saving the lives of women, do advocacy for laws that protect women’s sexual and reproductive health rights. I will work towards a society where women are not treated as commodities but as human beings who have the right to decide about their bodies and where women are not seen as victims/ beneficiaries but drivers of change. I will work to extend the Hotline to other countries where women need this information, will extend the AIDS discussion clubs to other parts of Pakistan.

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