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Category Archives: Women

The great question that has never been answered, and which I have not yet been able to answer, despite my thirty years of research into the feminine soul, is “What does a woman want?”
– SIGMUND FREUD, Ernest Jones’ Sigmund Freud: Life and Work

Unsafe at home – Domestic Violence during the Pandemic

Tue, 08, 20

A surge is evident in domestic violence during the pandemic. Experts suggest how this can be countered.

Stuck in your house for months, with minimal or no outside interaction with other humans except via phone or online. The only people you are spending more time with than ever before is your family. Sounds familiar? For some, it may even sound comforting, as home is where one feels safest. But women who are stuck at home with an abusive family member or partner during the pandemic are not safe at home either.

When it comes to the issues humanity is facing due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the loudest voices and most glaring headlines are centered on the public health crisis, crumbling economies, and job loss. What is often ignored, and not fully understood, are the implications of this crisis on vulnerable communities; one of these is women, and one of the problems women are facing more than ever during the pandemic is gender-based violence, in their homes or outside.

Pakistan saw its first two confirmed cases of COVID-19 on 26th February, 2020. In a video message in the month of April, the United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres had warned the world of a ‘horrifying global surge’ in domestic violence during the coronavirus pandemic, saying that “We know lockdowns and quarantines are essential to suppressing Covid-19. But they can trap women with abusive partners.”

As stated in a policy brief by the Ministry for Human Rights, Government of Pakistan, titled “Gendered Impact and Implications of COVID-19 in Pakistan,” evidence suggests that epidemics and stresses involved in coping with the epidemics may increase the risk of domestic abuse and other forms of gender-based violence (GBV). Studies have also found that unemployment tends to increase the risk of depression, aggression and episodes of violent behavior in men. “Hence, the country may experience a rise in cases of domestic abuse as a result of COVID-19. Given the current climate of decreased economic activities, financial uncertainties and a situation of lockdown being faced in Pakistan, heightened tensions could translate into women facing more vulnerabilities,” states the brief.

Why is it happening?

The fears have come true. “There is an increasing global evidence that rates of GBV have increased under lockdown,” says Ayesha Khan, author of ‘The Women’s Movement in Pakistan: Activism, Islam and Democracy’, adding that women stuck at home with abusers who are getting increasingly frustrated by the impact of the pandemic, both economically and psychologically, have nowhere to go.

The psychological factors seem to be the main reason in this rise. “Men as primary earners in many families are feeling the financial pressure and stress more. For many, social distancing has also meant a drastic change in routine because of limited work and socialising, which causes a build-up of stress. For some, the stress is related to constant fear of exposure to COVID-19 because of work or because men tend to do a lot of outdoor work. Sometimes stress manifests as physical symptoms,” says Clinical Psychologist Dr Asha Bedar who has worked in disaster situations, including the COVID-19 crisis. She shares that she has more men presenting issues such as chest pains, breathing trouble and issues sleeping. Men also tend to externalise a lot of their stress through irritability and aggression which can spill into violence at times. The brunt of this pent up stress is faced by the females in the family, mostly the wife.

As Dr Bedar explains, women during the lockdown have had to disproportionately bear a triple burden of work: increased household work with everyone at home, increased and constant caretaking responsibilities (including coronavirus patients), and home schooling of children (including learning and managing new technology). Working women face an additional juggling responsibilities. “Both physical fatigue and mental stress are being reported more. Constant interaction and demands often mean more conflict at home, and can contribute to more depressive symptoms and anxiety. Many women report being left with no time for themselves. Channels for stress relief through breaks, socialising, and other away-from-home activities like office work, shopping, visiting family, socialising with neighbours, friends, or attending classes etc., have also become limited, increasing their levels of stress and anxiety. Irritability, anger, anxiety and depressive symptoms are all emerging more,” she says. This constant friction between stressed spouses means they have less emotional threshold and patience, especially the men. The result is an increase in domestic violence.

According to a UNODC report titled ‘Gender and Pandemic – URGENT CALL FOR ACTION’ advocacy brief, 90% of women in Pakistan have experienced some form of domestic violence, at the hands of their husbands or families. 47% of married women have experienced sexual abuse, particularly domestic rape. Most common forms of abuse, according to the report, are Shouting or yelling (76%), Slapping (52%), Threatening (49%), Pushing (47%), Punching (40%), and Kicking (40%).

“Most Pakistanis have been hit hard socially and economically by the pandemic, but the impact has been different on women and children who have been historically marginalised and prone to be victims of aggression. Covid-19 and its consequences have placed the already vulnerable women in a graver situation due to the triggers for abuse induced by the stress and financial problems coupled with confinement in the home caused by lockdowns,” says Fauzia Viqar, Chief Executive of Rah Centre for Management and Development, a rights advocacy organisation. She confirms that domestic violence has increased and is being reported in larger numbers across the world, including Pakistan. According to her, the recent numbers shared by the helpline of Ministry of Human Rights prove a rise in domestic violence since the lockdowns in Pakistan.

When asked about the reasons leading to this surge, Dr Tabinda Sarosh, Pathfinder’s country director in Pakistan, says that it is due to “lack of mobility and isolation at home, widespread unidentified and unrecognised mental issues combined with pre-existing high incidence of VAWG (violence against women and girls). Global data shows that incidence of DV and VAWG always rises in crises situations and often goes unreported.”

The broader description of violence, according to Dr Shama Dossa, a community development practitioner, researcher and academic, includes psychological violence and deprivation. “The impact of job loss and lack of mobility is more on women. Women are more burdened with household work during the pandemic. The lesser educated the perpetrator, the more the violence,” she says.

According to a UNODC report titled ‘Gender and Pandemic – URGENT CALL FOR ACTION’ advocacy brief, 90% of women in Pakistan have experienced some form of domestic violence, at the hands of their husbands or families. 47% of married women have experienced sexual abuse, particularly domestic rape.

The reporting of DV in Pakistan is not easy because of multiple factors, and women are scared to report due to social taboo. According to the aforementioned UNODC report, only 0.4% of women take their cases to courts. 50% of women who experience domestic violence do not respond in any way and suffer silently. Usually domestic violence is underreported; women stay in abusive and violent marriages till the stage comes when divorce becomes inevitable.

“Generally, help-seeking behaviour is missing. Anecdotally, police officers say that they succeed in convincing the woman to make up and go back home to the husband without registering an FIR,” says Dr Dossa, adding that the reporting process should be set up in a way that women feel more comfortable to report. A big consideration is that if a woman leaves her house after suffering from DV, where is she to go? “In the province of Sindh, there are some functional safe houses at the district level where complainant can stay for a few days.”

Working towards a solution

Experts feel that while the situation is difficult, the way forward for mitigating domestic violence, particularly in the pandemic, requires multi-pronged approaches.

“Domestic violence can be addressed at different levels, such as raising awareness among women and young people, and providing info on coping and safety, as well as setting up and disseminating info on professional crisis helplines with trained counsellors and lawyers. Also to be included in the strategy should be developing SOPs for the police for handling DV especially during COVID-19, setting up safe (including COVID-19 safe) spaces for women and children, strong support from the Government on a no-tolerance approach for violence, creating awareness on anger and stress management for men, and legal awareness,” suggests Dr Bedar.

The support needed is not just logistic and legal, but also emotional, and all these aspects need consideration. Ayesha Khan shares that in Pakistan, civil society groups have helped to set up new helplines to support women needing help from abusive partners, and cites examples. “Rozan has set up a dedicated national helpline under COVID-19 which gives psycho-social support. ShirkatGah is helping the Sindh Commission on the Status of Women prepare a gender response to Covid-19 pandemic, in which GBV and DV are key areas of concern.”

Dr Dossa is of the opinion that the answer lies in a multi-sectoral collaboration which is needed to counter the menace of DV and GBV, which means that the police, the social welfare department, the women’s development department, the population planning department, all work in consortium. As the main systems provider is the Government, this is what is needed.

The aforementioned policy brief informs us that Pakistan’s Federal Ministry of Human Rights has taken an affirmative step through issuing a COVID-19 Alert that provides a helpline 1099 and a WhatsApp number 0333 908 5709 to report cases of domestic violence during the lockdown.

Dr Sarosh feels that healthcare providers like Lady Health Workers (LHWs) or Lady Health Visitors (LHVs) can also be part of the solution “Under ‘NayaQadam’, for the first time in Pakistan, healthcare providers trained on Family Planning are now being trained on GBV services to become first point contacts for the survivors. This would allow women to seek survivor-centred services in full confidential and private settings, receive basic aid, and high-quality referrals to shelter homes, security services, legal recourses, and of course health responses.” NayaQadam is a project led by Pathfinder International with five partners aimed at high-quality FP programming. While this is a feasible solution, the safety of female healthcare providers is also a matter of concern, more so during the pandemic – safety against any kind of violence and exposure to the coronavirus is something that would need to be looked at carefully when they are out in the field or working from makeshift clinics in their homes.

Women have been excluded from most decision making forums on COVID-19, as well as response and relief related groups. According to Fauzia Viqar, National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) and other high level platforms are cases in point. Absence of the female voice in decision-making for meeting the challenges posed by the pandemic marginalises issues of women, including increase in their care giving role, DV and issues of access to information among others. She adds that COVID-induced restrictions on OPDs and transportation have increased women’s challenges, especially of reproductive health, which is already low in priority. “We need to ensure there is no disruption in services to victims of domestic violence such as helplines, shelters and OPDs,” concludes Viqar.

The writer is a freelance journalist with a focus on human rights, education, health, and literature. She also works as a Communications Practitioner and Media Trainer.

https://www.thenews.com.pk/magazine/you/700989-unsafe-at-home

The women of substance from DIRILIS ERTUGRUL

Tue, 07, 20

Here, You! celebrates the inimitable female characters of one of the world’s most popular contemporary television series.

Women who take over the reins of the tribe. Women who are so much more than ceremonial First Ladies. Women who are warriors, doctors, community leaders, members of the government, treasurers, and secret-keepers. Viewers are initially agape at the marvel of the male characters of the Turkish series ‘Dirilis: Ertugrul’ as warriors with hearts of gold and unshakable faith. But scratch the surface, and it is the female characters of the show that are the real stars. These female characters are strong, individualistic, and never overshadowed by their male counterparts.

The show’s characters have been penned and performed in a way that they become real to the viewers. Since this show came to homes across the globe via Netflix, and recently when PTV started airing the Urdu dubbed version of the mega hit series in Ramazan 2020, much has been discussed about Ertugrul Ghazi and his alps. Here, You! celebrates the inimitable female characters of one of the world’s most popular contemporary television series.

Hayme Ana – Of motherhood and leadership:

Her face is tender and expressive. For her children and grandchildren, she is loving and doting beyond belief, her words are always laced with ‘Ana qurban’ (may I, the mother, be sacrificed over you). She is the caring and affectionate wife for Suleyman Shah, who takes over as his successor as head of the tribe, that too in the 13th century. She is a mother figure to many who lost their mothers, including her husband’s nieces Seljan and Gokche, and to Ertugrul’s alps (his chosen military commanders and friends). But the character is much more than just a wife or a mother, and it would not be wrong to say that Hayme Ana is almost the matriarch of the Kayi tribe. She sets the bar, for the women who follow her very high. She has political acumen, is part of important meetings in the tribe, takes the lead in times of war and migration, and continues to support the tribal heads – her husband or son – as the second in command. From the body language to the choice in words to her actions, Hayme Ana is a woman of substance, and continues to be so through all five seasons of the show.

Halime Sultan – The real strength of Ertugrul:

Her entry in the show is as a displaced princess, saved by the incredibly brave and chivalrous Ertugrul. But make no mistake, it is she who saves Ertugrul many a time from the depths of despair by being his inspiration and strongest support system. Halime Sultan, the stunningly beautiful female protagonist of the show, is more than just a pretty face. She has a strong sixth sense and is a good judge of people, often better than her male counterpart. Halime, her mother-in-law Hayme Ana, and all leading ladies of the Kayi tribe, can afford servants, but instead of relying on ladies in waiting, these are hands on women who like to stay physically strong by working hard, whether it is by weaving carpets that is a major source of income for the tribe, or lovingly cooking for their families. This aspect is particularly marked in the case of Halime, as she is originally a Seljuk princess, but her life takes a 360 degrees turn as she becomes Ertugrul’s wife, and in time the first lady of a nomadic Turk warrior tribe. She is simultaneously the coy bashful love interest of her man, but equally at ease riding on her horse’s back or fighting men with swords to protect herself. As the First Lady of the tribe, her role is so strong in terms of leadership, and taking care of tough tasks like ration distribution and nursing the injured, that it makes one wonder what happened to first ladies in the 21st century who are merely complementing the male leaders as subservient eye candy.

Seljan Hatun – The surprise package:

Love her or hate her, but you cannot ignore her. If there is one female character that continues to keep the viewers on tenterhooks of suspense, it is Seljan Hatun. The character is so layered that each one of us can relate to it at some point. From antagonist to someone who has the capability to repent sincerely and turn around, Seljan is an unforgettable character. Her husband, the often naive Gundogdu, is led into many a trial due to her whims and schemes. But the character has a God-gifted strong intuition, and she progressively uses this gift for the larger benefit of her tribe. She has a no-nonsense attitude and is painfully persistent, and while both qualities have their cons, the pros outweigh them. She wants to keep the family intact, and is fiercely sincere to her tribe.

Aykiz and Aslihan – With Turgut as the common thread:

Aykiz is Turgut Alp’s first and only real love. Aslihan Hatun is his last love. To be the female counterpart of a man as strong in every way as Turgut Alp, it is a given that both these women are equally powerful. Aykiz, the keen-eyed archer, is not afraid to shoot an arrow at the enemy. Aslihan, as the head of the difficult Javdar tribe, is fearless with her sword, and unafraid to stand up to the enemy for truth and justice. Aslihan faces unprecedented challenges in the shape of Emir Sadettin Köpek who falls in love with her – a love that is both destructive and evil. The strength of character that she shows in facing him leaves a deep impact on the viewer.

Ilibilge Hatun – A stickler for justice:

She joins the show in its twilight, but has an indelible impression. With his heart already taken by the love of his life, our hero Ertugrul is very clear that the woman he now chooses to stand beside him as his life partner would have to be a woman who shares his life ideology of striving for truth and justice, and is someone who can sustain the pressures of being the wife of Ertugrul. Ilibilge fits each requirement. She is willing to sacrifice her personal dreams, her blood relationships, and even her life, for the causes she believes in.

Women of substance in smaller roles:

The smart, scheming and clever antagonists like Aytolun Hatun, Mahperi Hatun, Goncagül Hatun, and Sirma Hatun, are all layered characters that have shades of gray in them. But the ones to be celebrated are some other women in smaller roles that make one marvel at the prowess of the goodness in women. Etched in every viewer’s memory is Sügay Hatun, a woman who has lost her own child, and little Osman’s survival depends on her. The immense potential to share love with a motherless child shown by this widow who takes a stand against her oppressive in-laws is memorable. But perhaps most significant was a character from the last season – season 5 – an unnamed old woman, a poverty-stricken woman who has lost her family, is just left with small grandchildren, but opens the doors of her home to a stranger in need – a pregnant woman. The generosity, contentment, self-respect and gratitude embodied by that character makes one look inward and think what actually makes someone a woman of substance.

https://www.thenews.com.pk/magazine/you/692901-the-women-of-substance-from-dirilis-ertugrul

The case of female home-based workers during COVID-19

June 14, 2020

Perhaps the worst-hit during the lockdown are workers in the informal sector. Among them, the women have taken a harder financial blow even than the men

For Farhana Naz, the biggest worry right now is that monsoon rains will start in July, and the roof of her house drips, but she has no money to buy her medicines, leave alone get her roof repaired. “I am a widow with one daughter, the sole bread-winner of my family. Apart from some philanthropists who gave us ration, I have no one to look towards for help,” says Naz, a home-based worker (HBW) from a shanty neighbourhood in Orangi Town, Karachi. Women in her area, she says, are not just unemployed but also too scared to step out of the house even to go to the doctor or a hospital if they are sick. “Coronavirus is a disaster; it has spread in my area. We have no food, no money and no work is coming our way,” she says. “We are waiting for all this to be over”.

In wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, Pakistan’s economy has suffered badly. The lockdown has disproportionately affected Pakistan’s small-wage earners. Out of them, workers in the informal sector are perhaps the worst hit. Among them, the women have taken a harder financial blow even than the men.

According to Iftikhar Ahmad, a comparative labour law expert and founder of the Centre for Labour Research, the total employed labour force in Pakistan is 62 million of which 24 million are in agriculture while 38 million are working in the non-agriculture sector. “The informal sector includes those enterprises which do not fall under the jurisdiction of labour law. Combine the informal sector (27 million) with the agriculture sector (24 million) and you get the ‘unprotected sector’ (51 million),” he says. The unprotected sector consists of all workers who do not enjoy the protection of labour law and where workers are not registered with the social protection institutions,” says Ahmed, adding that data regarding HBWs is based on International Labour Organization (ILO) reports which mention the number of HBW in Pakistan to be around 12 million.

“Pakistan’s informal economy comprises 74 percent of it, with a majority of women working invisibly as home workers, domestic workers, contract workers in factories, and labour in rural economy,” says Ume Laila Azhar, executive director of Homenet Pakistan, a network of organizations formed to raise awareness about the working conditions of female HBWs. Azhar adds that HBWs who are subcontracted by national and international supply chains report that they have not received orders for work or regular orders have not been renewed for months since the onset of Covid-19.

Four months ago, Fozia Bibi and the 80 other women from her neighbourhood she is a community leader for, were working and supporting their families. Post-Covid-19 and lockdown, there is no work, and no earning for the 80 households from Baldia Town, Saeedabad, in Karachi. From earning Rs 15,000 to Rs 20,000 ($90- $120) a month, Bibi, a single mother supporting her three children, is now earning nothing. “I had a routine. I had a life. The lockdown and coronavirus changed everything,” says Bibi who made a living by doing miscellaneous work for garment factories.

With the wages of HBWs having dwindled, their dependents too are suffering. “In my area, almost all women are working to support their families. Some are widowed or divorced. Others have husbands who cannot work because of illnesses. Many have husbands who are drug addicts. All these families are affected in a way we could not have imagined,” she says.

“Developing countries may not have the budget or the resources to afford balloon payment to workers of the informal economy. The workers themselves don’t have enough money to prepare for crisis either.”

“While male workers could still make it to the limited work opportunities, it was impossible for female workers to leave home because of closure of transport. During the lock down, some employers were operating secretly. Male workers were preferred on account of better mobility. There is also pressure on female workers from their families to not go out in situations of crisis,” says Zulfiqar Shah, the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (PILER) joint director, adding that because of disruptions in supply chains, work opportunities of HBWs have declined.

“Even when females are working with formal sector enterprises, they are working mostly without appointment letters or formal employment contractors. Hence, they were the first victims,” says Ahmad.

Azhar says that female workers from all sectors in the informal economy have been affected. Giving the example of the garment and textile sector in Karachi, she says that the industry and local markets are closed, the consumers are opting for just basic utilities instead of purchasing clothes, and the international market demand has declined. “In Pakistan where millions of women do piecework for national and international brands, work began to fall off in February as fears of the virus spread. Since many of the raw materials these workers rely on come from other countries, they were unable to get supplies early on in the global crisis or had to pay more for inputs. This affected those who produced garments as well as those who assembled electronics, games and other products,” says Azhar. Many HBWs were unable to stock raw materials before lockdowns began. “They might not have had time, storage space, or available cash to do so. This prevented them from using this time in isolation to amass products that they might sell once the lockdown was over.”

Relying mostly on philanthropists for rations that would help them get by these very lean months, some of them tried their hand at self-help. As a community leader, Fozia Bibi had introduced the idea of putting in some spare money in what can be called a collective community fund, for rainy days. Even if very small amounts were added, the savings helped this group of women buy rations for those in dire need for the initial weeks of the lockdown. But now all petty savings have run dry.

“The informal economy is particularly strong in developing countries,” Ndaya Beltchika, Lead Technical Specialist, Gender and Social Inclusion for IFAD (International Fund for Agricultural Development), said recently while addressing journalists from various countries. “Developing countries may not have the budget or the resources to afford balloon payment to workers of the informal economy. The workers themselves don’t have enough money to prepare for crisis either.” Beltchika suggested that the governments could repurpose some investments in order to come up with plans that can at least provide basic necessities to these vulnerable citizens.

“There should be an unemployment fund for women who have lost jobs. They should be paid from this fund till normalcy returns,” suggests Shah.

The solution, according to Ahmad, is making social protection a fundamental right. “The state can initiate contributory social protection schemes for all workers, irrespective of their employment status or type of sector they are engaged in (formal or informal),” he says, adding that provision of social protection, especially when it is financed by contributions by the beneficiaries in the form of premiums, is not that costly since not everyone is accessing benefits at the same moment. “Covid-19 is an extraordinary situation and drained resources from even the best-funded social protection systems. Therefore, it depends more on the will of the state rather than on financial resources.”

https://www.thenews.com.pk/tns/detail/671633-the-case-of-home-based-workers?fbclid=IwAR17VIJL73UZwjZBm3GaJfvZ6tJ1RW60HZwi-HSLbTtsr9fLfxs1c6JYqRs

Campaigns against gender-based violence

Published: December 8, 2019
PHOTO: FILE

PHOTO: FILE

KARACHI: “Sindh has a number of very good laws pertaining to gender-based violence and rights of women, but implementation has always remained weak,” said Legal Aid Society associate director Maliha Zia Lari, talking to The Express Tribune after moderating a panel discussion at the “Provincial Consultation on Implementing Laws on Rape, Sodomy and Sexual Abuse.”

As activists the world over push ahead with the annual international campaign “16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence” that kicked off on November 25, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, and ends on December 10, Human Rights Day, concerned individuals and organizations are sitting down to discuss what can be done to make life safer for Pakistan’s vulnerable populations, particularly women and children.

Fight against gender-based violence stressed

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Sindh office organized the discussion in Karachi as part of a series of campaign events. Aiming to initiate discussions around understanding the changes and procedural amendments in laws relating to rape, sexual abuse and sodomy, UNFPA’s representatives reiterated their commitment to the elimination of all forms of gender-based violence. This year’s theme for 16 Days of Activism, “Orange the World: Generation Equality Stands against Rape!” resonates with this commitment.

Focusing on the role of government departments and institutions in the implementation of laws relating to the subject, experts such as police surgeon Dr Qarar Abbasi, Sindh Muslim Law College principal Justice (retired) Ali Aslam Jafri, DIG Investigation Javed Riaz, Sindh women development department secretary Alia Shahid and Sindh Commission on the Status of Women chairperson Nuzhat Shirin discussed how implementation could be made possible and how laws could be further refined.

Courts for gender violence cases to start on Nov 4

Between 2006 and 2017, there have been several amendments to the law relating to rape and sexual abuse. According to UNFPA representatives, these amendments have created a legal framework with differing definitions and punishments for rape based on sex, with life imprisonment or death for aggravated circumstances. Yet there is little awareness of the changes amongst the people and the key actors in the criminal justice system. For effective implementation of the law, each actor such as the police, medico-legal officers and the judiciary need to reform their operations.

Farhat Parveen, the executive director of National Organization for Working Communities proposed that women should be hired in larger numbers to deal with sexual violence cases and should be provided with all the basic necessities to carry out their work. Pitching suggestions for improvements in the implementation of the law, she advocated for the inclusion of transgender issues in the body of law and exemplary punishments to eradicate sexual violence, adding that out of court settlements should not be allowed for offences such as rape.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 8th, 2019.

https://tribune.com.pk/story/2113665/1-unfpa-campaigns-gender-based-violence/

Let us talk numbers – Contraception in Pakistan

For Pakistan to climb the ladder of development indicators, the issue of family planning needs urgent attention

Let us talk numbers
Only 34 percent of married women are using a contraceptive method.

While we are at it, let us talk more numbers. According to the latest Pakistan Demographic and Health Survey (PDHS) 2017-18, 52 percent of currently married women age 15-49 in Pakistan have a demand for family planning (FP), 19 percent for spacing births, and 33 percent for limiting births. Only 34 percent of currently married women are using a contraceptive method either to space or to limit births, and therefore have fulfilled their need. However, 17 percent of currently married women have an unmet need for family planning — 10 percent want to space and 8 percent desire to limit births but are currently not using any contraception. If all married women who want to space or limit their children were to use a family planning method, the contraceptive prevalence rate (CPR) would increase from 34 percent to 52 percent.

Humans require developed ecosystems to survive and thrive, something that we are unable to provide to more than 220 million people. Of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Pakistan is lagging behind at most. According to UNICEF, 23 million children between the ages of 5 and 16 are out of school in Pakistan, a whopping 44 percent of the total population in this age group. There are some five million children between the ages of 5 to 9 who are not in school, making it the world’s second-highest number of out-of-school children (OOSC) at the primary level. Not just this but also that gender-wise, boys outnumber girls at every stage of education. In Balochistan alone, 78 percent of girls are out of school. For every 10.7 million boys that are enrolled at the primary level, 8.6 million girls are enrolled, and dropouts of female students remain high. Health experts say that over 44 percent of Pakistani children under five years are stunted due to chronic malnutrition.

It is not that Pakistan is not working on these issues. Yes, clearly, the work is not enough, but there is something more to the failing state of our social indicators. That is, perhaps, the missing link we do not see enough work being done on — family planning. The strapping Pakistani youth in such high numbers could be Pakistan’s asset; they are, instead, Pakistan’s Achilles heel. The nation has to not just feed the 220 million plus people. It also has to provide opportunities for growth and development so that Pakistani people can tap into their potential for economic prosperity of themselves and of the country.

The dots have been joined. Why, then, are we failing at it?

Lack of political will, and perhaps realisation among the upper echelons of power regarding the importance of mitigating this increase in population has been a consistent issue. Earlier this year, the Ministry of Health formulated an action plan for population control. The draft shows that the government is aiming at obtaining universal productive health services by 2025. The buck stops at the National Task Force on Population Control, headed by Prime Minister Imran Khan. But the real test is not just the approval of such action plans, but actually the implementation. The plans have been multiple but the implementation has clearly not been enough. When a country’s biggest issue has been its national security, followed if not preceded by layered and debilitating economic crises, family planning seems to be a lesser important challenge. In reality, it is one of the biggest ones.

What the proposed law is doing is updating an old piece of legislation with some new principles of human and women’s rights and ensuring that processes are made easier and more streamlined and that the suffering of a significant number of people in their country is reduced.

Healthcare persons and experts working at the grass root level cite many potential issues. While antenatal care and visits from a skilled healthcare provider may have improved, there is still much to be done. Midwives and lady health visitors can play an imperative role in this, and it is these programmes that need to be strengthened through their training and capacity-building. Perhaps this is why modern contraceptive use by married women has stagnated over the last 5 years, with 26 percent of women using a modern method in 2012-13 and 25 percent in 2017-18, according to the PDHS. Lady health workers play a major role in dispensing injectables, oral pills, and condoms to women, 18 percent, 26 percent, and 15 percent respectively.

Modern methods include injectables, intrauterine devices (IUDs), contraceptive pills, implants, male condoms, the standard days method, lactational amenorrhoea method, and emergency contraception.

69 percent of unplanned pregnancies end in induced abortion in Pakistan, states a recent study by Guttmacher Institute titled “Adding It Up: Costs and Benefits of Meeting the Contraceptive and Maternal and Newborn Health Needs of Women in Pakistan”. The study further informs that fully meeting married women’s need for contraception would lead to an estimated reduction of nearly 1,000 maternal deaths annually.

Contraceptive discontinuation, myths surrounding use of modern contraceptives, fear of side effects, lack of awareness, an absence of decisions made mutually by the couple without interference of mothers-in-law and societal dictates — the reasons are multiple.

World Contraception Day falls on the 26th of September. It is a reminder that for Pakistan’s well-being, much needed impetus for the issue of family planning is the solution. It is only then that Pakistan can hope to climb the rungs on the ladder of development indicators.

http://tns.thenews.com.pk/let-us-talk-numbers/#.XZGtB0YzbIU

 

Making Pakistan proud: In conversation with Wajiha Pervez

Making Pakistan proud: In conversation with interdisciplinary designer Wajiha Pervez

 Published: July 15, 2019

Wajiha Pervez is a Pakistani artist, interdisciplinary designer, materials enthusiast and traveler.PHOTO: VCUarts

Pakistan has an abundance of talent, and young Pakistanis continue to make their homeland proud internationally. One such Pakistani is Wajiha Pervez, a Pakistani artist, interdisciplinary designer, materials enthusiast and traveler.

Qatar Foundation (QF), a conglomerate of academic institutions including campuses of many international universities, houses the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Arts (VCUQ). The university hosts a high-profile event, Tasmeem Doha, which hosts renowned artists and speakers from all over the world. Up until now, the board of the event only consisted of either key faculty members from the parent campus in Richmond or top local faculty. However, this year, for the first time, Wajiha has been added to the board as a co-chair of the prestigious Tasmeem, the first entirely student-led edition of the event. She is the first Pakistani to have achieved this honour.

Born in Karachi, Wajiha received her BFA degree from the University College of Art and Design, Lahore, with a specialisation in textile design. Currently living in Doha, this 29-year-old achiever went on to acquire her MFA in Design from VCUarts Qatar in 2017.

In this exclusive interview, she talks to ET Blogs about her life, her journey, and her achievements.

Why did you opt for studying design at the university level?

Growing up, I was surrounded by family members and friends who were creative. I used to watch my grandmother’s stitching and was struck at how a piece of cloth, a few strands of thread – and skill – could create something beautiful. My mom has always been my biggest support and cheerleader. I get my energy and drive from her.

Besides, I felt it was the right time – Pakistan’s fashion and design sector was coming alive. We had our own design institutes.

Also, design suits my personality. Everything is fluid and evolving in design, which means that it’s unpredictable. As a person, I’m quite comfortable with that element of unpredictability, with allowing things to evolve in their own time.

Design is not merely about clothes and accessories; there isn’t a facet of life that is not touched by design. Even the most sophisticated technology needs an element of design to make it appealing and marketable; from forks and forklifts, to hospitals and homes, a designer’s fingerprint is on almost everything you use.

In the subcontinent, high-achieving students often choose a science stream. How did you take a different path?

There is still a degree of uncertainty in Pakistan when it comes to studying anything that does not lead to a ‘prescribed path’. And my case was no exception. It took quite a bit of persuasion and arguments with my family, to convince them of my decision.

Do you feel that attitudes in Pakistan have changed for youth and women?

As a millennial from Pakistan, I would say that things have changed a lot. The youth of Pakistan doesn’t accept answers blindly; we want to know the reasons behind a decision.

As a woman from Pakistan, I feel empowered because I have been raised by women who were independent and strong; never in my family have I seen a woman not being given an equal voice as her male counterparts.

I know that there are other women who may not be as fortunate as me. But then again, I’ve also been inspired by women who have faced their circumstances and gone on to achieve what they set out to. So I think women in Pakistan are in a far better place than their mothers and grandmothers were, and they know that.

How has the fashion and design scene in Pakistan evolved?

An appreciation of the finer elements of fashion and design has always existed in Pakistan. But it wasn’t given a voice and projected out onto a platform. We didn’t give it the sort of publicity that we do now. Compared to the fashion scenes in other countries, we’re still in our infancy. We are a regional contender, but we have yet to mature, or be elevated to a position where we are a global leader. I see this as an advantage – especially for people like me. It gives us more room to explore and establish our own styles.

When it comes to design, what do you focus on?        

My special interests are in material innovation. Now I make footwear and active wear mostly and consult companies on patents for sustainable materials and technologies. I also like to explore globally-endangered textiles through contemporary materials and techniques, so that traditional textiles continue to live on. I want to continue my research in the circular economy, sustainable fashion and ethically-produced textiles. I’m also keen to put together more conferences, events and festivals like Tasmeem.

Having co-chaired an international art and design event as a Pakistani, what does it mean to you?

Today, the experience seems surreal. I met so many incredibly talented people. Incidentally, the theme of this year’s Tasmeem was Hekayat (stories) and that was apt. The participants were a combination of rising and famous designers and artists, but they were also people who had struggled to reach where they are now; to get things done, to get their voices heard. It was inspiring to learn about what it took for each person to reach where they are now. For me, that was the biggest take-away of my experience – that I helped bring these inspiring designers to Qatar, and, in turn, inspire those in Qatar.

As a Pakistani, and as a woman, what has your experience in Qatar been like?

As a woman, what has struck me as amazing was the female leadership in Qatar and the QF. Nowhere else have I seen such remarkable female leaders as I have in QF’s Education City. I have always looked up to amazing women back in Pakistan, but in Qatar, the level of female-led leadership is something else; every big institution or organisation has a female in one of the topmost positions.

In Qatar, another factor that stands out is the multiculturalism. I’m blessed to have chosen a country that respects and values people from Pakistan. And not just to me, this country gives a voice and place to people from other countries also who call Qatar their home.

What would you tell your peer group – especially women – in Pakistan?

I would say the very first thing is to define yourself to yourself; you cannot move a step forward unless you know what your heart wants. Secondly, make sure you don’t take up anything that you don’t feel really strongly about. Then, step out. Because once you know the reason, the motivation and direction finds its way and then nothing can stop you.

God doesn’t give you a challenge if He feels that you don’t have what it takes to overcome it. You need to hold firmly on to that belief, because there will be times when that will be the only thing that stops you from giving up and going back.

Any immediate future plans that you’d like to share with us?

After Tasmeem 2019, for the first time since the biennale was staged, we are taking it out onto an international platform. The Tasmeem space will be set up as part of the upcoming London Design Festival in London Design Week. I’m in the process of putting together the exhibits and merchandise for that. After that, we plan to present a talk about it in Amman in Jordan. As for my personal circular fashion research, I am devoting more time to it now and we will see where it takes me.

(All photos: VCUarts Qatar)

Farahnaz Zahidi

A writer and editor, who has worked as a Features Editor with The Express Tribune. Her focus is human-centric feature stories. She now writes as a freelancer, and works as a media trainer and communications practitioner. She tweets as @FarahnazZahidi (twitter.com/farahnazzahidi?lang=en).

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

https://blogs.tribune.com.pk/story/85335/making-pakistan-proud-in-conversation-with-interdisciplinary-designer-wajiha-pervez/?fbclid=IwAR0pw_veB6I18bwkE1CIAGT4jz-ezY36vYKm5I1fp0tdHhwogIS8f2QS8sY

Wearing second hat as family’s sole breadwinner

November 12, 2018

ASIYA’S day starts at 5.30am. She says her prayers, cooks breakfast for her family, and a curry for dinner, wakes up her three children, feeds them, sends them to school, and then cleans her one-room rented accommodation in a shanty town of Karachi. She leaves home at 9am to work as a domestic helper, and gets back by 6pm. Then onwards, household chores keep her occupied.

Her husband doesn’t have a job since they moved from south Punjab to Karachi. Yet, she is the one doing double duty, managing her home and wearing a second hat as the family’s sole breadwinner.

“Time for myself? Never thought about it,” she says. Her monthly salary is Rs20,000 ($150).

Across a few roads where more affluent Karachiites reside lives Saima (name changed) who earns six times as much as Asiya, her monthly salary as an assistant manager at a multinational firm touching Rs120,000 ($900), more than what her husband earns. Yet Saima’s routine is pretty similar to Asiya’s. In addition she is a caretaker to her elderly mother-in-law once she is back from work.

dawn storyBannerWorld-Data-Forum (1)

UNDP’s human development report highlights that care work, mostly undertaken by women, is what enables a majority of the paid work which drives economies. Yet, as it is unpaid, it is under-documented and taken for granted. According to a recent report by the International Labour Organisa­tion (ILO), globally women perform 76.2 per cent of total hours of unpaid care work, more than three times as much as men.

In Asia and the Pacific, this rises to 80pc, where women spend 4.1 times more time in unpaid care work than men. Around the world, women spend two to 10 times more time on unpaid care work than men. Countries have valued unpaid care work between 15 and 39pc of national GDP.

At the recent United Nations World Data Forum 2018 hosted by the UAE government, Gender Data remained at the forefront of discussion as more than 2000 academics, statisticians, and activists from both the public and private sectors globally sat down to discuss the impact of data, especially Gender Data. Data2X, led by the United Nations Foundation, is a key organisation among Gender Data initiatives, and defines Gender Data as “data that is disaggregated by sex (e.g. school enrollment by sex), as well as data that pertains specifically to women and girls (e.g. maternal mortality rates). This data is critical to determining the size and nature of social and economic problems, the causes and consequences of those problems, how to design policies to combat them, and the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of those policies”.

While the Pakistan government strives to get over its economic crises and the subsequent cost on human development, half of the country’s population — women — and data related to their needs and their economic contribution remains mostly missing.

Women’s rights proponents like Ume Laila Azhar, Executive Director of Home Net Pakistan, highlight these issues at the policy level.

“If women are counted in statistics, their work must be counted too,” she says. Ms Azhar adds that in the Human Development Index, if women are not recorded in the labour participation figures, it shows low female participation. “If the numbers of women in the work force appear to be too small, women are not considered at the policy level — policies that translate into job opportunities or initiatives for skill development for women,” she says.

Time Use Surveys (TUS), an important tool in this regard, measure how, on an average, people spend their 24 hours in what activities. “TUS are the best instrument to measure unpaid care work, since they measure the time people spent on this work,” says Mayra Buvinic, senior fellow at Data2X and an internationally recognised expert on gender and development. Linking the dots of TUS to the evaluation of unpaid work, Ms Buvinic says that by assigning a value to unpaid care work, “you make this work visible to policymakers who design policies to increase labour force participation rates and provide social services, including paid care services”. “Unpaid care needs to be factored in the design of these policies since it conflicts with labour force participation and it provides an estimate of the need for child and elder care,” she adds.

The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) target to improve women’s lives by encouraging their economic participation and financial inclusion. Gender Data is an important tool in the achievement of the SDGs.

A recent tweet by philanthropist Shaniera Akram resonated with the twitterati where she mentioned how women’s multi-tasking and contribution is undervalued. Speaking with Dawn, Ms Akram says that women are often overworked and under-appreciated, not just in Pakistan but all over the world.

“Women can’t be taken for granted anymore. Men can’t just take all the credit, especially when the women — mother, daughter or wife — are taking care of everything behind the scenes,” she says, suggesting that society will benefit from incentivising staying home and taking care of children, the elderly and sick or disabled relatives, with a domestic allowance for women.

“We must focus on getting to a point where women don’t just have the right but also the choice between wanting to stay at home and going into the formal work force,” she adds.

“When families in rural Sindh or Punjab work on lands of landlords with tenancy arrangements, the whole household is working — including the women and children — whose contribution isn’t counted,” points out Ms Azhar. Rural women do a lot of unpaid work like growing vegetables for food sustenance, looking after cattle and milking cows, doing not double but triple duties.

“A woman overworking is a form of exploitation, and she doesn’t get the respect and acknowledgement she deserves for her contribution,” she says.

The author is a freelance writer and her work can be seen at chaaidaani.­wordpress.com

 

‘Real’ women weigh in

As a woman what would you like to hear — “You look amazing” or “You are amazing”?

http://tns.thenews.com.pk/real-women-weigh/#.WtxBBohubIV

‘Real’ women weigh in
The catwalk is where you see ‘beautiful’ women. Thin, young, unblemished, unwrinkled women. Because that is our criteria of beauty. The fashion arena has no place for cellulite and scars, nor does it welcome aging.

But a recent fashion show by designer Cheena Chhapra in Pakistan Fashion Week (PFW) in Karachi was clearly thinking outside the box. These were, what the designer called in her Instagram post, “real women”. There were white-haired women and over-sized women and women of all ages and sizes… including pregnant women. They were real alright. But were they beautiful?

50 is the new…?

The pressure on women is immense. ‘Kill me but make me young’ is the silent but definite mantra. The compliment a woman is conditioned to receive as the biggest compliment is this: “Oh my God, you look so young, I thought your daughter was your sister!” It started with ‘40 is the new 30’. You had to look a decade younger. Now it’s 60 is the new 40’, and the yawning gap that women must cover up has reached about 20 years.

Even the most honest of women who don’t lie about anything else will be found sneakily hiding a few years from their age. The white hair near the forehead are not welcome for a woman; neither is the frizz or the thinning of hair in the front of the crown. It is a much tougher deal for a woman if, because of any reasons, chemotherapy for example, she loses hair.

But men are ok even if they are bald, and in fact are considered more “distinguished looking” if they have gray or silver hair.

These judgments are not just coming from men. They are coming from women against other women too. Our remarks, attitudes and body language end up impacting other women in terms of how they look at themselves. Thus the increased emphasis on invasive procedures to make lips look plumper, skin look more stretched, the nose look less droopy, and the face look unwrinkled. There are even more invasive procedures for many body parts, better left unsaid.

Sized up

Each one of us, at some stage in life, has heard comments about our weight and size and body type. “You look too thin; are you ill?” if you have lost weight, interspersed with unasked for suggestions to put on thora sa (a little bit). Or “You’ve put on haven’t you? I know a great Zumba instructor”. When women go looking for girls for their sons or brothers, they want the “slim, fair” variety. It is as if society measures you up in kilogrammes instead of talents and values. Fat shaming is not always verbal or direct. It can be done in a subtle manner, making the other person feel lesser because of the extra weight.

While fitness is important, both in terms of health as well as well-being, we are born with certain genetic dispositions when it comes to our body types — the pear shape, the apple shape, the hour glass shape. We don’t really have a choice in that.

Women’s bodies undergo multiple changes over time due to hormonal ups and downs, childbirth, or simply age. You cannot and will not have a body of a 25 year old if you are 45, but you can be fit and healthy if you work at it.

It started with ‘40 is the new 30’. You had to look a decade younger. Now it’s 60 is the new 40’, and the yawning gap that women must cover up has reached about 20 years.

We, the objects

The problem lies in women being reduced to “objects” of beauty, of desire, and of attraction. This is done not just by men, nor just by women, but by societies as a whole. We almost see women in inanimate terms. This era of hyper-sexualisation leaves women of no age — little girls, young women, middle-aged women or even elderly women. It seems we took Keats’ “A thing of beauty is a joy forever” quite literally, often seeing this timeless line of poetry as an implication towards women being a ‘thing’ of beauty. As women, don’t we recognise that this objectification dehumanises us somewhere? But we are as much a part of the problem as men.

Big women on the small catwalk

Why initiatives such as Chappra’s show are important is because they can go a long way in modifying, if not completely altering, perceptions about what comprises a beautiful woman. But such initiatives do not go down well with everyone. The show got mixed feedback. Some appreciated it as a game-changer, while others said these big women on the small catwalk did not belong there.

For women, it is important to take stock of themselves and ask themselves the question, “What is it that defines me?” If it is what you look like, and if that is the source of the highs and lows of your self-esteem, then clearly there is a problem. It is also important to honestly ask ourselves how we look at other women — do we value them on the basis of how they weigh, dress and look, or on the basis of who they are and what they do.

Change trickles in slowly, and it takes forever to change mindsets. But unless we, as women, start the change from within, we cannot expect society to change from without. So the next time you compliment a woman, let it be about more than “You look amazing”, and move it to “You are amazing”.

Women on the go – How information technology has helped Pakistani women’s mobility

Access to smart phones and internet has played a major role in adding to the mobility of women

Women on the go

It takes 34-years-old Afshan Babar some 90 minutes to reach from her home in Surjani Town to the training centre run by TAF Foundation (TAFF) where she is enrolled in the Cooking and Housekeeping course at TAFF-VTI.  There was a time when she could not have imagined stepping out of the house alone.

Now, the ability to reach from point A to point B has changed her life. “Watching others use public transport is what encouraged and motivated me,” says Babar. She has now joined the millions of Pakistani women, particularly in urban Pakistan, who are daring to be mobile on their own.

The credit for this acceleration in the number of women daring to go where no woman from their family had gone before goes, according to experts, to access to information technology and cellular mobile phones.

For Amber Zulfiqar, a Food and Travel Influencer & Digital PR Consultant, services like smart phone taxi services have eased up travelling for women. “Women are taking inspiration from other women — it grows like a chain. When a woman lets go of her fears of travelling alone, it is because she has heard stories of her friends using it or read encouraging material online.”

Most gender experts like Mahnaz Rahman, Director, Sindh chapter of the Aurat Foundation, agree that cellular phone access is a blessing for Pakistani women. “Technology has shown women a path that is a means to an end. Sitting at home, many women have become entrepreneurs with the help of social media,” says Rahman, adding that as ours is a patriarchal society, men have better access to information technology as more men than women have cellular phones, especially smart phones.

“Nonetheless, access to information technology has helped women get exposure to the world and step outside their cocoons, not just physically but also intellectually,” she says.

“The first step for women is to step out of their homes. Exposure helps them evolve and grow. This mobility is not just travelling from point A to point B — it is also about joining the workforce,” says Sibtain Naqvi, Head of Public Affairs at Careem.

Naqvi echoes the opinion that mobility is a serious challenge in Pakistan. “A mega city like Karachi is without a serving metro system. And the challenge is bigger for women. Even privileged women are dependent on males of the family to go out; women from the middle class who are educated are expected to sit at home simply because getting to work poses a challenge. The vans that women use to get to office and go back home do not provide personal mobility,” he adds.

A woman’s needs are beyond just getting to work or dropping and picking her children, and the urban woman has a lot on her plate owing to fast-paced lifestyles of both spouses. Taxis are prohibitively expensive, often not maintained, with rash drivers and security issues; rickshaws pose their own sets of problems.

Even privileged women are dependent on males of the family to go out; women from the middle class who are educated are expected to sit at home simply because getting to work poses a challenge.

Once urban women of Pakistan got access to cellular technology, smart phone taxi services began to fill the gap. “We are happy to share that 70 per cent of Careem’s customers who ride are females — females from all areas and all economic strata. What apps have done is that they have empowered women to make their own choices — something they do not get to exercise beyond the kitchen,” he says.

The impact of women’s access to technology is not just limited to riding with the help of such apps, but goes beyond. For Quratulain Tejani, for example, being a digital strategist and entrepreneur would not have been possible without access to a smart phone. “A few apps and tools have changed my life completely. Google Maps have made mobility so much easier and convenient. I can go from one corner of the city to another, knowing that I can find my routes easily. Even when I’m driving around and get lost, all I need is 3G and Google Maps to help me find my way,” she says, adding that Google Drive and WhatsApp have facilitated her in her professional life.

For the 200 plus female captains in Careem and for the female entrepreneurs behind the thousands of home-based small entrepreneurships that rely on social media for their marketing, cellular technology is providing opportunities of work.

These impacts are not limited to just upper tiers of society. In TAFF, one of the projects includes training and placement of women from underserved backgrounds in the Domestic Help industry.

“I’ve witnessed a dramatic transformation in students who graduate from our programme. Women who had never stepped out of their houses are now riding buses around the town to reach their workplaces on time. These are women who overcame their fears, including that of travelling on public transport to earn living incomes for their families.

“Most of them are also now part of WhatsApp groups created by TAFF-VTI to stay in touch with both students and alumni which is a testimony that technology is not only being introduced to but utilised as well by our students and graduates,” says Hammad Mateen, Programme Head at TAFF-VTI.

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The mobility, then, is more than just physical. Naqvi observes that generally, technology is associated with the male gender, especially in South Asia; while girls are encouraged to join Fine Arts and Humanities, boys are encouraged to work in the field of IT. But smartphones may have broken this technological barrier for women.

“We are seeing an interplay between women and technology. Even my mother has now moved to a smart phone so that she no longer has to wait for me to take her somewhere — she can just call a smart phone taxi service. This is true both for generations of technology immigrants as well as technology natives like the youth. This change is not just of physical mobility. It is sociologic as well as demographic,” he says.

However, experts like Uzma Quresh, Social Development Specialist with the World Bank Group warn against the vulnerabilities that women are exposed to due to being active on social media and using information technology. She cites examples of cyber harassment and also mentions cases of honour killings where a girl was killed because of having access to a phone or the internet.

“Virtual mobility gives women job opportunities. E-commerce portals and IT-related skills are profitable avenues for women and also give them exposure,” she says, but adds that society has to work not just on facilitating physical mobility of women but also ensure that virtual mobility does not lead to irreversible repercussions and safety threats for women.

“It is not enough to give women access to information technology and social media; we have to work on changing mindsets,” she says. The need, then, is that the collective social thought-process moves from being restrictive to being enabling for women. That, perhaps, will be real mobility for the women of Pakistan.

International Women’s Day: The tough but unpaid work women do at home

 Published: March 8, 2018

The time has come that not just men, but also women, start recognising the immense contribution of women in the survival of a family and a society. PHOTO: ISTOCK

“So do you work or are you just a housewife?”

I remember being asked this question many times by people I was meeting for the first time. I also remember asking other women the same insensitive question, simply because I too, like so many of us, had been conditioned to only value work that gets remuneration in return.

Looking back, the years during which I took a hiatus from work as a journalist, because I was looking after a home and my family, were the years I perhaps worked the hardest. Even physically.

Imagine for a moment that the women all around us – the mothers, the wives, the daughters and daughters-in-law, the sisters and the sisters-in-law – demanded they be paid for the care and services they provide to their families. Imagine what their bank statement would look like at the end of the year!

Let’s look at the numbers. Around the world, women spend two to 10 times more time on unpaid care work and domestic work than men – work that is not often counted in labour statistics. Countries have valued unpaid care work between 15% and 39% of national GDP. Data shows that women often have a higher total work burden than men when paid and unpaid work is combined.

On March 7, 2018, Data2X launched a new report –“Invisible No More? A Methodology and Policy Review of How Time Use Surveys Measure Unpaid Work” –  with 18 case studies of countries that have started harnessing time use (TU) surveys to measure unpaid work and generate policy change regarding many issues relevant to social development. This is, in turn, making the world look at the tangible value of unpaid care and household work.

The report defines unpaid care and household work as work done by people to take care of their households and others – everyday unsung chores like cooking, cleaning, caring for children, the ill, and the elderly, and many other important tasks.

So many women among us are super women, literally. They do the jobs of cooks, cleaners, drivers, nurses, tuition teachers, psychological counsellors. They manage homes, finances and relationships. Any study of geriatrics shows that it is mostly, if not always, daughters who can be seen serving old parents and even parents-in-law.

TU surveys are important tools to understand where we, as members of the society, spend our most valuable asset – time. TU surveys, as the aforementioned report states, are quantitative summaries of how people spend their time over a specific period and how much time is spent doing each activity. These surveys help collect data that can be used to improve economic and social policies and have been used to advocate for policies that reduce the care burden, including expanding care for preschool children, elderly people, and people with disabilities. They inform and promote child protection policies by highlighting child labour and promoting broader child welfare systems. They help countries better value the contribution of unpaid care work to an economy, relative to GDP. Once we know who is spending time doing what in a society, countries can drive public campaigns to promote shared responsibilities in the home.

Today, we are celebrating International Women’s Day. And these issues can no longer be avoided. In rural areas, the load of carrying water still disproportionately falls on the women of the world because men, traditionally, do work that gets financial support for the family. But imagine if the women in rural Pakistan started charging for carrying the water back home. After all, this disparity does not only cost women time but also energy, and caloric requirements of water-fetchers increase – a requirement which is often not met for women. This is why now emphasis is being placed on highlighting the importance of men sharing the load of household chores with their women.

But what happens practically? The lion’s share of the food is given to the man because, hey, he is the one who earns. Managing a home, giving birth to children and then feeding them – it is a lot of unsung heroic work – one that needs to be appreciated. It’s high time.

As the Data2X report mentions, it is encouraging to see that slowly but surely, measuring reliably and comprehensively the unpaid household and care work traditionally performed by women has risen in prominence as a major challenge for official statistics.

Last year, in an encouraging initiative, the government of Sindh stood poised to adopt a policy for home-based workers (HBWs), making it the first province in the country to implement such a policy. Nonetheless, the fact remains that the list of home-based workers generally does not include the work women do at home.

Data2X’s new report mentions that in 2017, India’s Ministry of Labour and Employment’s Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Act recognising women’s time spent in care work, went into effect. Such policies are needed in all developing countries.

The time has come that not just men, but also women, start recognising the immense contribution of women in the survival of a family and a society. Every woman works, even though she may not get paid for it. So let’s not dismiss their contribution, for they are the axis around which a society revolves.

Do you think women should be paid for household chores and care work?

  •  Yes, about time
  •  No, it’s part of their responsibilities

     View Results

Farahnaz Zahidi

Farahnaz Zahidi

Farahnaz is a writer and editor, and has worked as the Features Editor with The Express Tribune. Her focus is human-centric feature stories. She now writes as a freelancer, and works in the fields of communications and media training. She loves literature and traveling. She tweets as @FarahnazZahidi. Her work can be seen at chaaidaani.wordpress.com/