Pakistan Court Orders Implementation of Measures to Address Obstetric Fistula

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The Center for Reproductive rights welcomes a ruling by the Sindh High Court in Pakistan directing the government to implement measures to provide access to obstetric fistula care in the province of Sindh, including the creation of fistula repair centers and the recruitment of qualified gynecologists to government hospitals.

The ruling by the Sindh High Court is in response to a petition filed in 2015 by Sara Malkani, Advocacy Adviser for Asia, demanding that the government take measures to prevent and treat obstetric fistula, a devastating pregnancy-related injury that affects hundreds of women in Pakistan every year.  The petition was filed on behalf of Kiran Sohail, a mother of six who developed obstetric fistula after having her first child.  She was left untreated for more than eight years. Gynecologist Dr. Shershah Syed, President of the Pakistani National Forum on Women’s Health and Tehrik-e-Niswan, a leading woman’s empowerment NGO were co-petitioners.

The petition, which was developed through the Center’s South Asia Reproductive Justice and Accountability Initiative (SARJAI), demanded that the government ensure affordable access to, and information about, treatment for obstetric fistula in every district in the province of Sindh. The public interest petition sought to hold the government accountable for denial of timely and adequate treatment of obstetric fistula as violations of women’s fundamental rights under the Pakistan Constitution, including their rights to life and dignity. The petition also demanded that the government comply with its international treaty obligations under the Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women and the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights.

Since the petition was filed, the High Court has passed numerous interim orders directing the government to frame policies related to obstetric care in consultation with civil society organizations.  These orders led the government to develop policy proposals and set aside budgetary allocations to improve the availability of treatment for obstetric fistula. “The High Court ruling reflects unprecedented recognition by a court in Pakistan that the government is constitutionally obligated to ensure the availability and accessibility of quality obstetric services,” says Payal Shah, Acting Director of the Asia Program at the Center for Reproductive Rights. “This is a crucial step forward to ensure women’s reproductive health and rights in Pakistan.”

The Court has asked the government to submit a compliance report in three-months to show that its progress towards implementation of the Court order.  The Center for Reproductive Rights and its partners will continue to monitor the measures taken by the government over the next few months to ensure that it fulfills its human rights obligations.