Population Matters

Zubeida Mustafa: Fighting for the Women and Children of Pakistan

July 17th, 2012

In the 33-year history of the Global Media Awards program, the Population Institute has recognized dozens of professional journalists for their coverage of family planning and reproductive health care issues. Many of them have gone on to have highly successful careers, based in part upon their continued coverage of population-related issues. One of those journalists is Zubeida Mustafa, a Pakistani journalist who retired after more than 30 years of work in 2008 as the Assistant Editor at DAWN, one of Pakistan’s most respected publications and the country’s largest English-language newspaper. She won Global Media Awards for her individual reporting in 1986 and in 2004.

In May of this year, the International Women’s Media Foundation selected Zubeida as the recipient of its Lifetime Achievement Award, calling her a “media pioneer.” As the first woman reporter at DAWN, Zubeida not only advocated for gender equality in her columns, she also helped to enact hiring policies to promote women at the newspaper.

As a reporter, Zubeida has sought to shed light on many of Pakistan’s problems, including those related to population and reproductive health. Pakistan’s current population stands at nearly 180 million, and according to the United Nations medium variant projection, this number could soar to 274 million by 2050. In a recent interview she remarked, “By not controlling our galloping birth rate, Pakistan has multiplied its problems enormously. One must view the issues of education, women’s empowerment, health and population planning holistically as they have to be addressed together.”

Zubeida believes that the low status of women in Pakistani society and a lack of political will also contribute to a low contraceptive prevalence rate (27%) and a high maternal mortality rate (260 deaths per 100,000 live births). The government and donor nations must do more, she says, to enable women to avoid unwanted or unintended pregnancies.  Such needed actions include increasing women’s access to contraception and involving men more in family planning discussions.

A lifelong champion of women’s rights, Zubeida is still writing columns and still advocating for women’s empowerment, children’s rights, education, and health care, despite her failing eyesight.

Posted by Christina Daggett, Program Associate

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