Program; Media and Democracy

Title. ‘“Ray of Hope”

Award-Winning Afghan Women Dr. Saleema Rehman and Community midwife  Khadija Bibi

Hello! I am Fahad Abbasi. Welcome to another program of Media and Democracy. The audience, in this series of programs that we have presented, we want to cover the role of media in the promotion and stability of democracy. The goal is to bring the real issues of the people to you at the community level. In today’s session, we are going to talk about Afghan refugees living in Pakistan. In the past, we have talked about the residential and educational issues facing this community in various episodes. But today our topic is maternal and child health. What are the problems of these women? Our reporter Saleha Gul met the women in the Afghan refugee camp in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Let’s talk to her.

Saleha, what do you know about the maternal and child health of Afghan women?

As you mentioned in the preface, there are many issues, one of which is their health. These refugees are living in difficult conditions. They have a small living room where a lot of people live together. There is only one toilet in the house which is used by all. This is where the health problems begin. Clean water supply and lack of proper nutrition are other issues. One of the biggest problems facing these refugees is the lack of basic health care, especially for women who are going through maternity leave. Even if there are health centers, they are out of reach of these people.

Did you meet the women and what did they say about maternal and child health issues?

I met a lot of women in this camp who were going through pregnancy and all of these women had the same problems as most women are not allowed to go to any maternity center and get their checkups done because the elders think that it is not necessary to go to the doctor. Sadly, think so even today. Second, the families of such women do not understand that even pregnant women may need to see a doctor. Such women hear that this is a normal thing and that children were born even before that. This thinking leads pregnant women to further complications. And if somehow pregnant women go to a doctor, they want to see a lady doctor. Because family members are not allowed to see any mail doctor. Then due to some financial difficulties, such women cannot go to the doctor. All of these factors add to the problems of these women. In addition to physical health, such women are also mentally ill. Thus, women go through both physical and psychological problems at the same time.

Women who are going through pregnancy when you met them did they say that they want to go to the doctor but the family does not allow it?

As you know, there are many tests during pregnancy till delivery during pregnancy and at the same time diet is taken care of. This whole antenatal checkup is going on. During pregnancy, you have to go to the doctor three to four-time. Pregnancy often leads to anemia. Malnutrition causes complications during pregnancy. So for all this, such women have to go to the doctor. Also, have to go for an ultrasound. This is not happening in these camps. Thus some women lose their lives during their delivery. Most women also think that delivery should be done at home instead of hospital delivery. It should be done by a midwife or an experienced woman. Most of the elderly women in the house do it. Because these women are not very skilled, some mothers lose their lives during pregnancy. Not only the mother but in some cases the baby as well. And both lives are in danger.

It should also be mentioned here that there is a concept in our society that we have to consult the lady doctor but, on the other hand, we do not promote the education of girls and we don’t like to talk on this subject. So who will become Lady Doctor? One of the girls we will educate will be a doctor or a nurse and will serve her community.

Saleha, you talked about mental health. There are women living in Afghan refugee camps whose health you talked about. We will talk more about it. Are they also suffering from mental health problems?

Yes, that’s right. These women are suffering from depression because they do not understand what they are going to do, why to have a baby and how to raise that baby? Troubled, she resorted to violence and vented her anger on her children.

Is sub they jected to violence? How much evidence of domestic violence has been found?

This is exactly what happens when they suffer from a mental illness, such as depression. Whoever comes in their way, they assault or get assaulted.

Yes, of course. That is why it is so important to provide a perfect environment for women during the entire nine months of pregnancy!

Yes, because when a mother is healthy, the child borne to her will also be in good health. One more thing I want to tell you. There is only one government hospital in Harripur that these few women who have access to the hospital can reach. The hospital has only one labor room and the fees are very high. Some people can’t even pay this fee but under the pretext of various tests, money is taken from them even after delivery some nurses or midwives take money on the birth of a son. In addition, there are no special transportation arrangements to get there. Some ambulances should be allocated for them. There is not a single special staff in this hospital inside the hospital to help Afghan refugees.


Well, we are talking about women in terms of mental health and research shows that women are more prone to depression during pregnancy and they also suffer from domestic violence and stress. Our senior journalist RIAZ MISSEN has talked to Dr. Khalid Mufti, a psychiatrist. Let’s listen to what he says.

Afghan refugees are absolutely helpless. They have no resources, they have poverty, they have diseases, and they have hunger. How much pressure is there on women in these situations?

Dr. Mufti: There is so much pressure on women that they have to do housework, and raise children and in order to earn a living they have to leave the camps and go out. Problems arise. On the one hand, irritability is created in them. They indulge in quarreling over trivial matters. They beat children. Other afflictions also cause them severe mental stress. They have a breakdown which is called psychosis. At the same time, their immune system becomes weak. And, this way around, they fall prey to a variety of diseases.

The physical development of pregnant women is not complete. Do they experience trauma during the delivery process and does it affect their mental health as well?

Dr. Mufti: The time of pregnancy is a very sensitive time. The first three months are included in it. On the one hand, it affects the development of the child. On the other hand, she becomes anemic and in some cases completely numb. If this continues for the rest of the days, then the pregnancy is lost, and if the pregnancy is not lost, then immediately after the birth of the child, the postpartum period leads to psychosis and severe mental illness, including depression. Her mental balance could deteriorate. She can even kill her 4/5 day old baby. Therefore, it requires a lot of expertise and timely treatment. Postpartum psychosis is more prevalent in our country. The disease is more prevalent in countries with economic problems, food shortages, the absence of women’s rights.

What is the status of the aid that can be provided to women in the refugee camp?

Dr. Mufti: Both refugee camps and earthquake victims’ camps are affected by the same type of disaster. So they are immediately given psychological first aid. Experts counsel them and experienced people train educated people like teachers how to do counseling. If someone has a psychological problem then the team goes there and treats him. About 70/80% of counseling is done in camps. Very few people are brought to the hospital.

Thank you very much Dr. Mufti.


Coming back to Saleha, we are talking about women’s issues, especially the women living in the Afghan refugee camps. Do you have any success stories? I mean, the women who stayed in the refugee camps, served the community for a while, and then went back to their home country along with their families?

This is exactly what happened when I met Zarghoon Bibi, who was a mother of 10 children. She told me that six years ago there was a nurse named Khadija Bibi. Six years ago, she returned to Afghanistan with her family, but as long as she remained in the camp, she served the community with her skills. She provided counseling to pregnant women and assisted them during delivery. She used to tell women what to eat during pregnancy, how often to go to the doctor, and how to reduce their depression. She used to take it to the doctor and get appointments for them. She was a role model for these women. Now Zarghoon Bibi says that she too will make one of her daughters a nurse like Khadija Bibi.

Let’s move on. It’s great to be in the community you belong to, learn something and serve your community. One such story we tell you through a report by our fellow reporter Palwasha Iqbal.

An Afghan refugee girl who, despite all the difficulties and obstacles, has become a ray of hope for Afghan refugees by becoming a doctor after getting an education. This ray of hope for Afghan refugees is Dr. Saleema Rehman, who is serving refugees. Dr. Saleema Rehman is the first Turkmen female doctor in Afghanistan to reside in Attock District, Punjab Province. She recently opened her own private clinic in Attock District, where she treats Afghan refugees. The biggest problem facing the Afghan community here is the language problem. Due to their inability to speak the Urdu language, the Afghan community is not able to properly express their problems to the doctor. Dr. Saleema Rehman’s clinic in Attock District has greatly facilitated the Afghan community. About 20 female patients visit her clinic daily. Most of them are Afghan refugee women. She does not charge fees to deserving Afghan refugees and local women.  Dr. Saleema Rehman is with us to share details.

Dr. Saleema Rehman: I have opened my own private clinic in Attock District where all the Afghan refugees who belong to my community especially come to me. These women have had language barrier problems before. An interpreter was needed to get them to the clinic. When they find out that a girl from their own community has become a doctor, they proudly and confidently tell me about all their illnesses and are overjoyed. It is a great honor for me.

Dr. Saleema Rehman told Radio News Network about how she became a doctor, and how she made the journey from immigrant to becoming a doctor in Pakistan.

Dr. Saleema Rehman: My journey from being a refugee to becoming a doctor was difficult. I faced many challenges. But this is the journey that began before I was born. My father tells me that we used to live in Swabi camp، which did not have such facilities at that time. At the time of my birth, my mother had a lot of problems because her case was a bit complicated. And there were no doctors in the Swabi camp at that time. The midwives there told the mother that she needed to go to a bigger hospital because her baby could not be born normally. But the hospital in Mardan, where she was referred, was far away and my father did not have the resources to take my mother to that hospital. At that time my father realized the need for a doctor in their community. He decided that whether he had a son or a daughter, he would make him/ her a doctor. When I was born, my father worked day and night to make his promise come true. A few years later he shifted to Attock and enrolled me in a refugee school there.

The education rate of girls in the Afghan community is very low and Dr. Saleema Rehman also faced not only obstacles in getting an education but also faced people’s taunts. That is what she said.

Dr. Saleema Rehman: While going to the medical college after high school, I was first criticized by my community. Because the literacy rate in our community is very low. In my school, I was the only girl in my class. But after that, when I was about to enroll in medical college, people in my community told my father not to send his daughter for further education as they did not provide education to their daughters. But my father had promised to make me a doctor. He encouraged me and stood by me.

Dr. Saleema Rehman explains how she secured the only seat reserved for Afghan refugees in the whole of Punjab.

Dr. Saleema Rehman: At the Afghan refugee School, I never realized I was a refugee. But when it came time to take admission to a Pakistani high school after completing my education there, then I realized that the process is a little different. The legal requirements had to be met. They did not have guidance for admission at that time. But the Pakistani teachers who taught me at an Afghan Refugee School guided me and got me admitted to high school.

Dr. Saleema Rehman explains how she got only one set of scholarships for Afghan refugees in the whole of Punjab.

Dr. Saleema Rehman: There was only one medical seat for Afghan refugees in the whole of Punjab and I thought that being a refugee so I will not be able to get a medical seat. But the Commissioner for Afghan Refugees who was in Lahore guided me in this regard. I was selected after an effort two years of effort.

An Afghan refugee is not allowed to practice as a doctor in Pakistan. But during the global epidemic of Coronavirus, Dr. Saleema Rehman was the only refugee doctor in the whole of Punjab who was working with Pakistani colleges at Code Response Hospital.

Dr. Saleema Rehman: When I applied for a medical license in 2015, I found out that Afghan refugees are not allowed to practice in Pakistan. At that time, I could not open my own clinic. But I Applied for a specialization in gynecology as it was my dream to become a gynecologist. I did four years of training at Holy Family Hospital. During the training, Holy Family Hospital was transformed into a Covid Response Hospital in 2020. At that time, it was a great honor for me to be a Refugee Doctor who worked with other Pakistani colleagues at Covid Response Hospital. At that time there was a great need for doctors because our colleagues were contracting viruses and were also being isolated and there was a shortage of doctors. Healthcare workers were in short supply. I was glad I worked there for many hours and never backed down and volunteered for my patients.

In the Afghan community where the number of educated women is very low, what message would you like to give to the parents and your community?

Dr. Saleema Rehman: I want to give a message to all parents to educate their daughters because parental support plays an important role in their success. I want to give the message to the girls that they should have dreams and keep their spirits and determination up till the end.

What are your plans for the future?

Dr. Saleema Rehman: I have to serve the same people in the future and the people in my community who used to criticize me now come to me for treatment. Now their thinking about girls’ education is changing. Now the same people send their daughters to school and tell them that they have to be like Dr. Saleema.

Dr. Saleema Rehman, an Afghan refugee living in Pakistan, was awarded the 2021 Asian UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award in recognition of her services to Afghan refugees and the local community. When did the Nansen Award begin and to whom is it awarded? In this regard (UNHCR) spokesman Qaiser Khan Afridi told Radio News Network.

Qaiser Khan Afridi: Nansen Refugee Award was announced in 1954. This is for people who have done extra- ordinary work, be it an individual, a group, or an organization. This award is given to the people who are refugees, homeless, or stateless.

Dr. Saleema Rehman put aside all difficulties and people’s words to fulfill the dream that her father had dreamed before he became a doctor and today he is not only the woman of the Afghan community and has become not only an example for the refugees but also the girls and women who are struggling to complete their education.


Thank you so much to our fellow reporter who was talking to Afghan Dr. Saleema Rehman, the first Turkmen woman, to move on to ending her seat today. There is also a great need for Afghan refugees to have a representative to represent them and work for them and serve their community.

Yes, it is like I told you about Khadija Bibi, she was exactly like Saleema Rehman and such women need to come forward.

Thank you very much, Saleha. Our guest today was our fellow reporter Saleha Gul. In today’s session, we were talking about the problems of women in Afghan refugee camps. In fact, if we want to improve our health and get rid of the problems in the way-, if we work for the betterment of women, especially those who have problems in general, we start by educating them and providing them with opportunities. With a new topic will meet you in the next program. Take care of yourself. Goodbye!

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