Rafiq Pathan-On the path less travelled, changing hearts and minds
In the hot sun-drenched deserts of Rajasthan, India’s largest state, he is an influencer par excellence. His audience is large, but his mission is one: to make sure female feoticide ends, and that girls can live a happy and productive life.
India’s Rafiq Pathan stands at the forefront of efforts to end discrimination towards girls, and symbolically plants a fruit tree every time a girl is born. He treads on the difficult path where few men have gone before, undertaking grass-roots advocacy to change the hearts and minds of parents, many of whom value boys more than girls. The elected Sarpanch (village council leader) for four remote and impoverished villages uses a unique strategy. He marries activism for gender equality with environmental protection, and uses his influence as the village council leader to support girl children, mobilizing his team of village council to work with him to ensure that girls can attain their full potential.
In spite of strong legislation to prevent the practice, in some parts of India, expectant parents regularly undertake an ultrasound to determine the gender of a foetus. They often decide to abort females, due to a variety of reasons, including the anticipated financial burden of dowries that many still pay for a daughter’s marriage, as well as the perception that girls will eventually be tied to their marital homes, unlike sons who will stay on and look after their parents in old age. In Rajasthan, the phenomenon of female foeticide has led to a highly skewed sex ratio: according to the 2011 census, children aged six and under were 888 girls per 1,000 boys that year.
Battling stereotypes and entrenched gender norms, Rafiq works with the community to end the practice through engaging all parts of the village. He consults with villagers and health care workers alike, sending midwives to expectant mothers, as soon as word travels that a baby girl is on the way. To counter any plans to end the life of the child, he amplifies the news of the baby’s arrival, and tends to the needs of the mother, throwing celebrations in the community, and even organizing adoptions for some baby girls of poorer families to ease their financial stress and give a better life to the baby. A #heforshe advocate and strong supporter of education, he ensures a community fund when a baby girl is born to contribute to her future schooling.
For his efforts that are changing the mindset of communities, Rafiq has gained international acclaim for his activism through the global press, and has been lauded by the state government, and awarded the highest honour of a gold medal for his work on eco-feminism.