Dr M Ahmed Abdullah
Many years ago, I was serving in a very hectic gynaecology and obstetrics department of a public sector hospital. We catered to a wide variety of women belonging to diverse geographical and ethnic backgrounds. One observation that I made was that women from various areas had varied exclamations for pain, for example, women from the Pothohar Plateau yelled Akko when in pain, while others said wai wai.
Culture is defined as learnt behaviour and has the capacity to influence all aspects of how we behave in our day-to-day lives. On a more molecular level, our behaviours are mostly controlled by hormones and neurons, but the manifestation and control of our emotions and responses has deep roots in what we have learned from our preceding generations and how we continue to transfer these learnt behaviours to the next generations. The issue attains further significance when rules and culture collide. These rules include the ones provided by both religion and the state. Islam makes the process of marriage easy by reducing the burden on both parties, yet the pre-existing culture in South Asia, where women are not given any part in the inheritance of the family and hence are given dowry at marriage. In this case culture steps on the rules set forth by religion and marriages are mostly influenced by culture rather than religion.
The prevalence of cultural norms is also evident in our celebrations of death and child birth. They also influence how we seek care when unwell. Many treatment modalities which do not have any scientific value are still being practiced in our part of the world.
For any long term and positive changes in the social set up of things, we need to work on behavioural change communication, which needs to be worked on while keeping in view the cultural challenges that are upon us. Culture gives us many beautiful and useful anecdotes, yet knowledge and wisdom help us in choosing the practical and useful aspects from this array of diverse practices.
—The writer is Assistant Professor Public Health, Islamabad Medical and Dental College.