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Rutgers must close country office in Pakistan, despite more work still to be done

After more than 20 years, Rutgers has closed its country office in Pakistan. The closure follows orders from the Pakistani government to wind down all operations, which was announced to Rutgers and several other international NGOs early this year. Rutgers is very disheartened by the sudden closing of the office in Pakistan, and thanks all the staff who contributed tirelessly to its work in the past decades.

Rutgers started its work in Pakistan in 1997, with a focus on young people, promoting life skills-based education and youth-friendly services. The NGO’s advocacy and campaigns were geared towards behavioural changes of young people, parents, teachers, journalists, politicians and others, to improve the sexual and reproductive health and rights of all in Pakistan.

Pioneering SRHR for young people
In the two decades that Rutgers ran programmes in Pakistan, some of the achievements include:

  • Conducting a first comprehensive research into the state of SRHR in Pakistan in order to establish a baseline for all programmes.
  • Introducing life skills-based education across the country, including at some madrassas (Islamic schools).
  • Pioneering sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) for young people in Pakistan, for example with the video ‘Breaking the Silence on Adolescent Reproductive Health’.
  • Raising the importance of Safe Motherhood, Family Planning and Child Survival in the nation-wide Community Health Workers Programme.

More recently, ending gender-based violence (GBV) and child marriages, were two of Rutgers’ main priorities in the country. Rutgers Pakistan collaborated with provincial government departments to improve the implementation of legislation on these important issues.

These achievements were only possible thanks to the support of numerous Pakistani civil society organisations (CSO) that helped with the implementation. Rutgers is very grateful for their contribution and support.

Negative gender norms
Rutgers fears the closing of the Pakistan office will have a negative impact on the well-being of the country’s population. A concern that is emphasised by the recent IMAGES study, a joint-initiative of Rutgers Pakistan, local CSOs and government institutions. This research gave, for the very first time, a clear picture of the prevalence of negative gender norms in Pakistan: 59% of women reported experiencing spousal violence, with 50% of men reported to have perpetrated it.

More encouraging findings included: 73% of men agreed men and women should decide jointly about the use of contraceptives. 42% of men favoured more pro-women laws, and high proportions of both men and women recognised that practices like forced marriages are harmful to women and girls. These ground-breaking outcomes led to a number of concrete recommendations and valuable entry points for combatting GBV.

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