Neha Mankani is our Woman of Substance for March 2019. She is helping mothers gain access to basic health and neonatal care in Pakistan. Neha is a LUMS graduate-turned-midwife and the founder of the Mama Baby Fund. The goal of Mama Baby Fund is to provide emergency funds for maternal and neonatal healthcare essentials. As a midwife, she has experienced first hand, the difficulties faced by families who don’t have the money to pay for food, blood tests, or even for the grave of their infant. Neha came up with the idea of the Mama Baby Fund to improve this situation.
The Mama Baby Fund serves as a “rapid response fund for emergency needs that women and their families don’t account for in maternal and gynecological care such as preterm birth, incubator fees, extra medicine costs, and multiple bags of blood. It also responds to in-kind needs with newborn clothes, diapers, baby oil, supplements for the mother etc”.
Neha was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to complete her Masters in Public Health from Columbia University in New York. She also enrolled in an 18 month mid-wifery course at Lady Dufferin Hospital in Karachi.
We asked Neha a few questions about Women’s Day and this is what she had to say:
What does Women’s Day mean to you?
While women should be celebrated every day, I see Women’s Day as a special day to reflect on how amazing women are. It is a day to recognize how far we have come, the struggles we continue to face, and how much further we still need to go.
One thing Western women can teach Asian women. (Or vice versa).
There’s a lot to learn from both groups! One thing Asian women could perhaps teach western women is about the intersection of race, culture and feminism and the different definitions of freedom, empowerment, and mobility that are embedded into women’s realities.
Your female role model in current times.
I met a midwife recently who works in a small village in South Punjab. Everyone in the area wanted her to deliver their baby. I wanted to know why, and I learned it was because of the way she spoke to people and how comfortable she made them; and because she never closed her clinic, not even on holidays or weekends so that women would always have access to services. That’s the kind of passion and integrity I aspire to have in my work as a service provider.
One hardship you faced in your path to success.
One of the challenges I faced in my initial time as a midwife and in starting Mama Baby Fund was dealing with the scale of adversity in the work. I had worked in public health for many years, so I had an idea that it would be difficult, but initially I was not prepared for the difficulty in caring for very sick newborns who would often pass away, extreme poverty, the abuse and loss lots of women had faced and the provision of emotional support for these women. That is part of the role of a midwife.
One thing you would do, if you were a man for a day.
Go to one of the many public spaces I feel uncomfortable walking in alone and see if I feel safer. I would end the day with a midnight walk around my neighborhood.
One thing we can teach Pakistani men.
That a woman is entitled to as much space as men. Men often think of all public spaces as their domain which is made prominent through the way women are treated and looked at it in what is considered a ‘male’ space. Men need to help women share communal spaces with comfort.
Fill in the blanks, A woman’s place is…
A woman’s place is not in a box! Wherever she wants it to be.
A song that describes you best
These days I’ve been revisiting Disney soundtracks, this song doesn’t describe me but it speaks to my work in the baby world: Circle of Life from The Lion King.
Pakistan is among one of the top Asian countries to have the highest child mortality rates. Neha has brought hope to many mothers who are deprived of adequate funds or medical facilities in neonatal care. Her profession dictated that she care for patients, but she decided to go above and beyond the call of duty – a choice that makes her truly extraordinary! This ‘Women’s Day’, let’s celebrate women like Neha Mankani who are devoting their lives to make choices that matter!