Pakistan’s principal media regulator has pulled the plug on a controversial television commercial promoting the use of contraceptives. The Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) ordered all television channels to immediately remove the 50-second spot for “Josh” brand condoms, calling the advertisement “immoral” and citing complaints from some viewers.
According to Dawn, an English language newspaper, the commercial in question features one of Pakistan’s most famous actress-models, Mathira, portraying a new bride who pampers her husband, thereby making another couple envious and jealous of their intimacy. One of the neighbors asks Mathira’s “husband” how he keeps his beautiful and glamorous wife so faithful. He proudly replies: “Bring Josh [condoms] into your life.”
“[The] airing of such immoral advertisement on Pakistani channels and… [during] the holy month of Ramazan warrants serious action,” said PEMRA spokesman Fakharuddin Mughal, adding that such content showed “sheer disregard [for] our socio-cultural and religious values.” PEMRA also claimed the commercial “violated” the Pakistani constitution.
However, Mathira told The Express Tribune newspaper that the advertisement is neither “immoral” nor “vulgar” and added that she was told that the commercial would be back on the air in a few days. (Josh condoms are marketed by DKT International, a U.S.-based nonprofit that promotes family planning and HIV/AIDS prevention in the developing world.)
Dawn noted that contraceptive advertisements are extremely rare in Pakistan largely due to fears of a backlash from a very potent conservative religious right. Making things worse, few women in Pakistan have access to birth control or family planning education in a country with a rapidly expanding population. The Pakistan Demographic and Health Survey noted that many Pakistani women and men regard contraceptive practices as “more threatening to their health than an occasional induced abortion.”
According to data from the United Nations, in a country with 180 million people (and growing at 2 percent annually), at least one-third of Pakistani women have no access to birth control. “Shortages of contraceptives are only one reason why millions of people are still unable to exercise their right to family planning,” said the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in a statement. “Access to family planning may also be restricted by forces including poverty, negative social pressures, gender inequality and discrimination.”
Readers’ comments to an article on the contraceptive ad in the Tribune website elicited a spectrum of opinion on the subject of contraceptives and population control, but most condemned the PEMRA. One reader warned: “[Let’s] just wait until our population hits 300 million, since we’re too ‘masoom’ [innocent] to handle a contraceptive ad.” Another reader criticized PEMRA. “Birth control to enable maternal and child health, sufficient attention and good education prospects for children and a better standard of living subsequently is against our socio-cultural and religious values? [We are going] Back to [the] Dark Ages!”
Still, another reader sarcastically characterized the ban as a “good idea,” adding that Pakistan should “keep on breeding, after all, a population of 250+ million is only a matter of time. Who cares if the country is not able to feed, clothe or educate most of them? After all they will substantially enhance the world population of the great Muslim ummah [community].” However, some readers found the commercial in bad taste. One said: “This was the most disgusting condom [ads] I have ever seen, the man he looked so horny and utterly disgusting -- please make ads according to [tastes of the] market. This is not America.”
Meanwhile, Pakistan faces a population bomb. According to a report from the Inter-Press Service news agency, the average Pakistani woman gives birth to four children in her life. By 2020, the population is expected to reach 200 million. “Any delay in addressing the issue of millions of uneducated and unemployed youth will lead to a disaster of unprecedented proportions in the near future,” Dr. Farid Midhet, a demographer and founder of the Safe Motherhood Alliance in Pakistan, told IPS.
Palash has worked as a business journalist for 21 years in New York.