RSS Feed

Tag Archives: Farahnaz Zahidi

Why must women get an ID card?

The reasons for women lagging behind men in the race to get registered as citizens are many, and in rural areas the factors multiply

Why get an ID card?

“Traditionally, in our village, people didn’t feel it was necessary for a woman to have a national identity card (NIC),” she says. Men are the ones who traditionally own property, get preference in education, and have ambitions to be financially independent, not women. But some ten years ago, Kaneez found an incentive to rush to get her NIC made — the Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) that gave her the hope of a monthly stipend.

Today, at the age of 41, Kaneez is thankful she got the NIC, as none of the employers in Karachi want to hire her as house help till she shows them her NIC. “Once we moved to Karachi, I realised that to get my daughters admitted in school I needed to get their B Forms made.”

The reasons for women lagging behind men in the race to get registered as citizens are many, and in rural areas the factors multiply.

If women do not have an identity card, they lose out on everything, says Maliha Zia Lari, lawyer and gender activist. “Without it they are not recognised by law; they officially do not exist. It has a massive impact on the personal, the social and the institutional levels.”

Without the NIC, women cannot reach out for any legal protection, their ability do anything on their own is curtailed; they cannot hope for independence. They cannot own or inherit property, and also cannot hope for insurance or be the beneficiary of any welfare initiative, as Lari explains. “Nadra requires a family certificate now for everything, so even the husband not having an ID card poses a problem if and when the wife and children want to get registered. Child marriage cannot be mitigated if a girl without an ID card is married off as she may be a minor for all we know.”

The reasons for women lagging behind men in the race to get registered as citizens are many, and in rural areas the factors multiply. “One of the issues is fulfilling the legal requirements and documentation required for getting the CNIC. Women in rural areas often don’t have means to readily get to the towns, are illiterate, have restrictions on mobility due to traditional customs and cannot travel alone [due to security reasons or family restrictions], and male members of their families don’t always support them to get to offices of the National Database & Registration Authority (Nadra),” says Ali Akbar from the Association for Water, Applied Education & Renewable Energy (AWARE) in district Tharparkar.

Read also: The cultural blockade

Akbar shares instances where women who did not have NICs were exploited and robbed of their rights. “Brothers and fathers who were not willing to give the rightful share of wealth to a sister or a daughter would, to close the revenue department’s record, get the tehsildar to record the statement of a couple of villagers mentioning that Mr so and so has no sister/daughters or that she has died or she is not claiming her right, and thus this male member of the family has the right to hold this property. But now the Nadra record is computerised and the woman has to be present and her statement recorded before the magistrate or registrar for any change in the legal ownership of property. The NIC, then, is a basic pillar for the empowerment of any woman.”

However, the awareness about the importance of being a registered citizen is growing among Pakistani women. Mahnaz Rahman, Director, Sindh chapter of the Aurat Foundation, says the projects by AF aim to incentivise it in many ways for women. “For example, we tell Muslim women that you need it to go for Hajj otherwise you cannot get a passport to travel for the pilgrimage. There is increased realisation about this among the lower income and middle income strata as well where the women are working to support their families,” she says.

Currently, AF is working on a project aimed at women from non-Muslim communities, encouraging them to get CNICs and in turn to exercise their right to cast the vote.

The BISP has had a positive impact in encouraging women like Kaneez to apply for NICs. “Our surveys show that numbers of women who have registered for the NIC has increased exponentially,” says Hasrat Prakash, Field Supervisor, BISP, in Mithi and Chachro, district Tharparkar, who adds that women are not just going for the ID card but are actually opting for the Smart National Identity Card (SNIC), Pakistan’s first national electronic identity card. The SNIC contains a data chip and many security features.

“BISP now requires biometric verification, which incentivised making of these SNICs. The incentive, of course, is the money stipend. The best part is that more women are now included in the voters’ list, and that more people are registering daughters at birth for the B Form, especially the eldest daughter of each family,” says Prakash.

As mobility still remains a real issue for women, facilitation efforts are being made by various organisations to help them get registered. “If in any locality we find one hundred or more women who need to get registered, Nadra’s mobile van comes there to help us and register women on the spot. There are holistic efforts by the civil society, aid agencies, Nadra and BISP among others, and the situation is comparatively better,” says Rahman, but also adds that more campaigns and efforts are needed for social mobilisation.

“Registering can be a tiresome process and if the people are not highly motivated why would they give up on a week’s daily wages to get an identity card?” says Lari, adding that “the most important thing that needs to be done is make the registration free as well as easier.”

http://tns.thenews.com.pk/get-id-card/#.Wi-XQt-WbIU

Advertisements

Truck art for education

An initiative that spreads pro-girls’ education slogans via truck art is hoping to change mindsets in Kohistan and around the country

Truck art for education

“It’s an initiative that I am so proud of because the local community has owned it,” says documentary filmmaker and rights activist Samar Minallah who developed the concept of a culturally relevant advocacy initiative through truck art. “The brightly painted trucks are like moving billboards that amplify a message from one part of Pakistan to another. My visit to Kohistan further reinforced my belief in using art and traditional motifs and designs for raising awareness,” says Minallah. Kohistan, according to the Alif Ailaan Pakistan Education District ranking 2015, is the worst performing district educationally in KP.

According to local teachers, children of primary schools of Pattan look forward to attending their newly painted classrooms decorated with bright indigenous symbols from Kohistan.

Using indigenous sensitivities and art in mind, Minallah interviewed local people for their opinion and collected local embroidery motifs created by village women as the preparatory research for the project, to incorporate in the final drawings and paintings. “The aim was to not only raise awareness about the importance of education for girls but also to honour local art and crafts, and develop a sense of ownership for the local community members,” she says. The total number of trucks that have been painted till now with these messages is 30.

“The feedback has been great because indigenous art and tools were used to convince local communities about the importance of education for girls, so it found acceptance and appreciation,” said Dr Ziaur Rehman Faruqi who is Head of Programmes at National Integrated Development Association (NIDA), and is actively involved with the project ‘Girls Right to Education’ in collaboration with UNESCO and both the federal and provincial governments. In the spirit of collaborative efforts, Faruqi shared that they have brought on board not just local leaders and parents but also the religious clergy and the political leadership for what he called a “holistic approach”. “This could not have been achieved otherwise as Kohistan had multiple issues like ghost schools and teachers.”

IMG_0010

School children of Kohistan took part in interactive painting activities .

According to local teachers, children of primary schools of Pattan look forward to attending their newly painted classrooms decorated with bright indigenous symbols from Kohistan, shares Minallah, adding that truck owners from Punjab have reached out to the artists to have their trucks painted with similar images and messages. “One of the local mosque imams asked if his mosque’s name could also be added on the newly painted bridge along with the pro-education empowering messages,” she says. Local people take selfies and photos from their mobile phones in front of these bridges of Sholgara, Dubair and Bisham adorned with important messages such as

Bhai aur behen mil kar school jaain, Zindagi main ilm se roshni jalaain (Both brother and sister should go to school and bring to life the light of knowledge) and Apni aulaad ko taleem ka tohfa daen (Give your children the gift of education).

Atif Khan, Minister for Education, KP, shares how education of girls is now being seen as a priority. “We are especially working on education for girls. Examples are that 70 per cent of all new schools we are working on are schools for girls, and also 70 per cent of the work to provide missing facilities in schools is focused on facilities for girls,” he says. As an incentive, female education managers in backward districts like Kohistan are being paid 50 per cent extra. Lauding the initiative to sensitize communities towards the right of education for girls through truck art, the minister said that traditions don’t change overnight. “Just constructing schools and passing bills is not enough. It is the mindsets that have to be worked on.”

“Work on this project has made me happy. It made the girls and their teachers happy. The classrooms looked beautiful. The girls would join in painting with me,” said Shaukat Khan, the painter who has till now painted these positive messages with colourful drawings on three bridges and eight classrooms in far-flung parts of Kohistan. “Initially the locals resisted. They were even upset. But once they saw the finished work, they began to like the idea. Change is starting to happen,” said Khan. Khan, a father of four daughters and one son, is an artist from Swat, who has made sure his daughters are going to school “because girls must get an education”.

http://tns.thenews.com.pk/truck-art-education/#.Wh–5UqWbIU

Old age matters – What being a caregiver to my mother & her passing taught me

Caring for the elderly is not just an act of love. It is a skill that one acquires over time, whether you are family or a paid caregiver. It is an upward learning curve, and the only way out is through

pp (1)

Two months ago, I lost my mother after her ten years’ long battle with the debilitating and progressive disease called dementia. On that first night after she passed, I got a message from a friend saying, “As you settle down to spend the first night without her in this world….” These words struck a chord with me. As people poured in to condole, and said, “you must have been prepared,” I honestly didn’t know if I was actually prepared, even though I knew it was inevitable. You’re never really prepared for the emptiness the loss of a loved one leaves. Yet, awareness helps us deal with this testing time.

For those who can afford to hire help or get their elderly loved one treated by trained healthcare practitioners, the blow is relatively cushioned, and the biggest struggle is the emotional pain one goes through to witness them fading away. This is when you learn the word ‘palliative’ care. “Sadly, less than 1 per cent Pakistanis have access to specialty palliative care,” says Dr Atif Waqar, Geriatrician and Section Head for palliative Care at the Aga Khan University Hospital, Karachi.

Geriatrics and Palliative care, as he explains, are two different sub-sections of medical care. “Geriatrics is care and treatment of the elderly, while palliative care is aimed at relief and prevention of suffering for both the patients as well as their families. Palliative care is not necessarily end of life care; that is a common misconception that sometimes even healthcare providers have,” he explains. Palliative care, then, is a more holistic approach. “It is actually all about living, not death. However, if all treatment options have been tried and exhausted, then palliative care does involve end of life or hospice care.

“Geriatrics is care and treatment of the elderly while Palliative care is aimed at relief and prevention of suffering for both the patients as well as their families. Palliative care is not necessarily end of life care; that is a common misconception that sometimes even healthcare providers have,” says Dr Atif Waqar.

Thus, we can say that all end-of-life care does come under palliative care but all palliative care is not end of life care.” Palliative care is a shift in focus where medical practitioners try to palliate the symptoms. Studies show that terminally ill patients actually live longer with holistic palliative care rather than with aggressive treatment.

As a son and caregiver, Afaq Ahmed, who lost his mother a few years earlier and his father just six weeks ago, has had to make some tough choices along with his siblings. He describes the painful experience of seeing his father, who loved to eat, refusing to eat due to dementia. “He would purse his lips tightly, and even if we managed to put something in his mouth, he kept the food in for a long time,” he says. The disease progressed, and he shares that it was a very tough decision when they decided that they wouldn’t use [aggressive] means to prolong his agony.

“Doctors and physicians are trained to save lives, which is why sometimes they use invasive means to keep the patient alive, but end up prolonging their suffering,” says Dr Waqar, and shares the questions that palliative care doctors put in front of the patients’ families. “Questions like ‘What would your loved one have wanted? Would they have wanted to live with this quality of life in a state of complete dependency? Would they have liked to be on a ventilator or someone pumping on their chest for CPR when it’s of no benefit? Would they rather choose to pass with dignity?’” What is often seen as defeat, then, by caregivers or physicians, is actually an informed choice.

“Doctors told us to consider if this is the kind of life our father would have wanted. My parents repeatedly used to say that they would not want a life of dependency and they were ready for the transition. We based our decision on the honest answer to that,” says Ahmed. He and his siblings decided to not force feed their father, neither by mouth nor through means such as a nasogastric (NG) tube.

Read also: Care for the caregivers

However this does not imply that all medications and treatment is discontinued. According to Waqar, intravenous fluids and antibiotics are actually therapeutic and if they help alleviate symptoms they should be continued till the end. Pain relieving medicines, like Morphine, are an option at this stage.

“Morphine is on WHO’s List of Essential Medicines that should be available because it is everyone’s right to be relieved of pain. But in Pakistan limited hospitals are given very specific and limited quotas. We strongly urge the concerned drug regulatory and health authorities to make it available to trained medical practitioners,” says Dr Waqar.

Ahmed and the family did use last resort pain relieving medications to ease his father’s pain in the last few days. “These medicines are not easily available but you can get them through the hospital or doctor under whose treatment your loved one is.”

It is not, however, easy to predict when it is time to let go. “Prognostication, or an estimation of survival, varies from illness to illness. It is both a science and an art. The variables differ from person to person. Doctors run tests to determine the actual situation,” says Dr Waqar. In his opinion, estimation is much easier in terminal stage cancer, for example, but not so easy in neurodegenerative diseases like dementia.

“Sometimes end stage patients surprise you and bounce back. There are dips, plateaus and peaks in their condition. However, when we see a steady decline in these four areas — functional, clinical, nutritional and cognitive — we know that the patient is approaching the end.” You see your loved one becoming increasingly dependent for even small chores, from being on the wheelchair to being bed-bound, and sleeping most of the day.

“They eventually stop eating; it starts with a decrease in taking solids but goes onto difficulty in even swallowing liquids. This is a natural process towards ‘transition’ which we commonly know as death. When the organs begin to shut down, the caloric requirement becomes lesser and lesser,” explains the doctor, adding that the family often thinks they are starving, which actually they are not; they no longer need that much nutrition. Caregivers attempt to force feed them which does more harm than good as the food ends up going in the lungs and aspiration pneumonia can develop.

In a lot of cases, the patient suddenly begins to show improvement or a burst of energy in the last few weeks or months. “That is actually the calm before the storm. This burst of energy helps them finish unfinished business. These facts are scientifically proven and are not hocus pocus,” Dr Waqar says. In his opinion, people in their end stage have very strong awareness about the upcoming transition. Patients are known to experience visitations of their loved ones who have already passed on and are now beckoning them. Near Death Awareness (NDA) is part of the dying process but caregivers often confuse it with delirium. Some patients who can articulate their experiences communicate what they are going through; others, like patients of advanced dementia, may not be able to.

The role of the caregivers, whether they are family members or paid staff, is one that is both painstaking and rewarding. Zaiba Emanuelle, a certified nurse in Karachi, works with elderly patients and has seen a surge in the number of nurses being employed in homes for the elderly. In her experience, patients are easier to handle compared to families of the patients. “The family keeps interrogating us. I understand that they have to do it, but it’s not easy dealing with them,” says Zaiba. “I have learnt that to deal with elderly patients, you have to understand them, and treat them with as much gentleness as one would treat children. It’s all about patience and flexibility.”

As a caregiver, I have learnt tremendously about life and death because of this sojourn on the path of dementia with my mother. I have learnt about what it means to be an elderly person in the twilight years of life, or to be a caregiver. Caring for the elderly is not just an act of love. It is a skill that one acquires over time, whether you are family or a paid caregiver. It is an upward learning curve, and the only way out is through.

When senior citizens are not a priority

Expecting specialised geriatric care might be too ambitious for the average Pakistani who sometimes does not even have a comfortable home or a devoted caregiver. “The numbers of neglected and abandoned senior citizens have escalated, and the reasons are many,” says Faisal Edhi of the Edhi Foundation that has been taking care of abandoned and underprivileged elderly since inception.

He feels that the dismantling of the joint family system, urbanisation, the thrust on industries, and the increase in population — all this has left families with little time to care for their elderly. “The government needs to face this reality and think of setting up old-age homes in peri-urban areas and outskirts of cities; this would be a much more economical option compared to hospitals. But senior citizens are not the priority in an already failing service sector,” he says.

In 2014, both Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and Sindh provincial assemblies came up with laws guarding interests of the elderly. The laws are ambitious. Sindh Senior Citizen Welfare Act, 2014, aims at lodging establishments, free geriatric and medical services, 25 per cent concession in all private medical centres and 25 per cent discount on purchase of essential commodities to name a few. However, what is missing is the implementation. Quality care for the elderly requires a steady stream of money, something not many Pakistani families can afford.

http://tns.thenews.com.pk/old-age-matters/#.Wh–3kqWbIU

Fresh thrust on social sciences and liberal arts

Academics question quality of education and lack of level-playing field for the youth of Pakistan, laying emphasis on the importance of fostering a sensibility for social justice at a conference at Habib University

Fresh thrust on social sciences and liberal arts
Closed doors of narratives that open only for a select few, and educational disciplines that act as isolated bubbles — that is the academia we mostly see. But in a postcolonial world, Pakistan is seeing a fresh thrust on social sciences and the emergence of liberal arts educational institutes. When scholars open their doors to the public and invite them to engage in conversations that problematise and aim to solve issues, you know that there is progress.

Talking of Pakistan’s struggle with education at the core of development, postcolonial higher education is an often ignored part of it. “One of the major demerits of postcolonial education has been that ‘education’ has almost exclusively meant ‘technical education’. In contrast, pre-modern forms of knowledge were very sensitive to the fact that knowledge was an end in itself rather than a means to something else,” said Dr Shahram Azhar, Assistant Professor, Social Development and Policy at the Habib University (HU), Karachi. Recently, HU held its third ‘Postcolonial Higher Education Conference’ highlighting the specific historical and educational challenges of the postcolonial world, under the theme ‘The Inheritance of Injustice’.

The educational system replicates and reproduces the inequality that exists in society, and this is completely unacceptable. A country that does not provide opportunities to its weakest members of society cannot prosper.

Sharing his views with TNS, Azhar added that resultantly, we have ended up with people with a lot of technical expertise but the inability to creatively apply those techniques to our unique social and economic conditions. “We’ve essentially been trying to copy and paste Western models of knowledge and thinking. What we have inherited is a colonial way of reasoning about the world; colonial education was precisely the production of knowledge for colonised subjects, rather than citizens.” In a world where the aim of learning is earning, Azhar’s words ring true.

In a divided and polarised Pakistan, liberal arts and a better thought out system of education can play a positive role. “The place where Pakistan finds itself today is rife with ethnic and class bias, gender disparity and religious bigotry. People often blame this on lack of political leadership but one of the reasons for this intolerant attitude and lack of civic responsibility is our failing education system. From the earlier dictatorial times when state funding would be diverted towards the sciences and very little towards social sciences, it has set in an attitude towards education as a means to an end instead of an end in itself,” said Dr Sabyn Javeri, award winning writer and faculty member at the HU, who was part of a panel at the conference. Her paper was on “Teaching Feminist Fiction in the Pakistani Undergrad Classroom.”

Speaking to TNS, Javeri said that one of the things that a Liberal Arts education does is that it provides you wholesome, all-rounder access to learning. “It is interdisciplinary, a mix of science and humanities. It promotes broad-mindedness, tolerance and pluralism, which is very necessary in a country as diverse as ours. This singular approach to studying where science students are not exposed to literature or even the fact that reading out the text book is not encouraged, is promoting a dangerous, extremist mindset.” She said that encouraging students to question was a core advantage of this system.

Azhar’s views echo the same thought. “A liberal arts education, like that at the HU, strives to change the irrational way of looking at education by incorporating a sensibility for social justice, equality, egalitarianism, peace, and tolerance in students so that they can creatively apply the technical knowledge that they acquire to improve the lives of others around them.”

However, unless the academia and scholarship play their part, achieving the goals Azhar mentioned, seem impossible. In his opinion, while academic scholarship can play a central role in fostering pluralism, it would depend, in turn, on the degree to which it can foster a sensibility for social justice. “This must happen at multiple levels: at the level of producing new research and knowledge, at the level of designing curricula that transfer that knowledge to students, and at the level of how that knowledge is transmitted to students. We have to develop sensitivity to diversity; religious, cultural, political, linguistic, gender, class — within our education systems and this must happen at all levels of the process of producing and disseminating knowledge,” said Azhar.

However, reality remains that while such an educational system is the ideal, few have access to it. Azhar candidly termed the current level of inequality in Pakistan’s social system ‘vulgar’.

“The educational system replicates and reproduces the inequality that exists in society, and this is completely unacceptable. A country that does not provide opportunities to its weakest members of society cannot prosper,” Azhar said. She finds this very disturbing. “On one hand we have world class universities like the IBA, LUMS and HU, but how many people have access to them? With the level of state education, only pupils hailing from a certain class, pass the stringent tests of these prestigious institutes. Yes, there are scholarships and equal opportunity policies, but how many from under-privileged backgrounds have the awareness to make use of these policies. And even within class, there is gender bias.” A conference like this one really helps, she said, adding, “People are thinking about it and that’s always a good sign.”

Talking of solution to this jarring disparity, Azhar mentioned multiple solutions that require a multi-pronged approach. “First, it calls for active participation of the well-to-do sections of society. They need to step up and create other charitable institutions that make it possible for members from marginalised socio-economic backgrounds to access higher education.

“Secondly, we need more state support. Ultimately, a model like the HU can only be replicated at a higher level via state support as there are limits to what private institutions can do,” he said.

As a third tier of the solution, he mentioned the need to democratise education and educational institutions. Students, then, must be made to participate in the process of deciding what they study, the policies that govern their lives, and how those policies should be executed. “We cannot have a democratic society if schools, colleges, and universities are undemocratic.”

 

Farahnaz Zahidi

555502_10151669319898318_1684699250_n (1)
The writer is a freelance journalist with a focus on human rights, gender and peace-building. She works in the field of Corporate Communications.

Karachi – Cultured Once More

Reclaiming life

Some diehard Karachiites have taken it upon themselves to own and revitalise the city in more ways than one. This is how they go about it

Reclaiming life

Karachi’s population in the latest census may be debatable but its status as a megacity remains undisputed. Matching the size, Karachi’s problems have been equally gigantic and complicated — ethnic clashes, gang wars, conflict, governance issues, a decaying infrastructure and a population size that has the city bursting at the seams.

In all of this, Karachi’s diverse and vibrant culture seemed as if dying out. Till some diehard Karachiites took it upon themselves to own and revitalise the city in more ways than one. This has all happened in the last decade or so.

“For almost three decades, Karachi has suffered unmitigated violence,” says Ambareen Main Thompson, Executive Director Society of I AM KARACHI (IAK). “A breakdown of law and order and the brutality of political and commercial mafias meant that both public spaces were lost and the public narrative was taken over by hate, divisiveness and intolerance.”

Karachi may well have another long lease of vibrancy that it used to have till the late 1970s when its populace lived without fear and enjoyed a vivacious and dazzling cultural scene.

“There’s also this culture of disconnect with the past that some of the organisations and movements are attempting to bridge,” says Rumana Husain who has authored two books on Karachi and is one of the people on the forefront of the present cultural revitalisation.

It was almost one hundred and fifty years ago that the British made Karachi the centre of military, administration, trade and culture, she says. “The city has continued to be competitive and dynamic, and there are many-layered cultures within it, which emanate from its multi-cultural population.”

As someone who has been part of cultural initiatives like IAK, Children’s Literature Festival, Badal Do! Movement and Citizens Against Weapons, Husain acknowledges the surge in Karachi’s cultural activities. “One of the most significant initiatives in this regard was taken by the government, when General Pervez Musharraf established the National Academy of Performing Arts (NAPA) in 2005 and appointed the legendary Zia Mohyeddin to head it. A number of actors, director and musicians have been trained by NAPA, and they have fed the burgeoning entertainment industry of Karachi.”

Thompson recalls that in 2013, when the situation in the city improved somewhat, the Karachi Youth Initiative (KYI) was launched which sought to engage the youth in more constructive and healthy activities as an alternate to violence and extremism. “It was from this that IAK was born in 2015 where civil society stalwarts like Jamil Yousuf, Amin Hashwani , Shahid Firoz, Sheema Kirmani, Ghazi Salahuddin, Rumana Hussain, Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy and others came together to take ownership of this platform as its founding members.”

50ed6043801737.57fd3c3ea02c5

IAK is a city-wide collaborative movement initiated by concerned citizens and civil society organisations of Karachi. It has provided a hub to promote socio-cultural activities and uses arts, culture, sports and dialogue as tools for conflict resolution and peace-building. “IAK works to change hate narratives, to reclaim public spaces, to build peace and tolerance and, most importantly, to channel youth to alternate narratives,” says Thompson. “Its programmes are all apolitical, areligious neutral forums where excellence and personal initiative and interest are the only criteria for inclusion.”

One of IAK’s most prominent initiatives has been the Walls of Peace initiative that worked on replacing negative graffiti-covered walls with visual images and messages that illustrate positive values, such as peace, tolerance and diversity. This was done in partnership with Vasl Artists Collective. Some 2000 walls across Karachi were cleaned and painted, engaging with 30,000 children to produce artwork for the walls of 2017.

One of the initiatives that served to resuscitate Karachi’s cultural activities is, no doubt, the Karachi Literature Festival (KLF) that was launched in 2010. While in the beginning, it was more limited to the literati, it is now a more mainstream event and many Karachiites see this as a positive sign. Forums like The 2nd Floor (T2F), among others, have given Karachiites spaces to talk, reflect and connect.

Read also: An ode to Lyari 

“Cultural activities, historically, required patronage of the elite — the rulers, the royalty, the nobles and the rich. Only in recent years, and especially after the industrial revolution, has culture become more democratic,” says Roland De Souza of Shehri-Citizens for a Better Environment. The organisation was formed in 1988 by concerned citizens to create a platform where Karachiites could come together and raise their voices regarding the city’s neglected living environment and ways to improve the same.

While Shehri has focused more on Karachi’s environment, its aims include creating a healthy and secure physical and social environment for the citizens. “The proliferation of cultural activities needs a certain amount of quiet and peace,” adds de Souza.

While an improvement in the general security conditions may have helped these initiatives, private initiatives can only go so far. “Despite every effort, none of the aforementioned initiatives can come close to what the government machinery can do in this regard. The funds, the resources, the (wo)man-power that the government has at its disposal isn’t comparable to any of the private initiatives,” says Husain. “Nevertheless, all those act as balm for the wounded soul of this blemished city.”

Much needs to be done despite so many efforts by the civil society. “Since green spaces are now less than 3 per cent of Karachi, community centres, such as T2F, Pakistan Chowk, the Grid and the TDF Ghar are all havens. In a city of 27 million, there is but one arts council and three theatre stages today compared to 11 in 1991. Of the parks that exist, many are locked and out of reach for the general public,” says Thompson.

Masuma Halai Khwaja of Karachi Biennale (KB) says that while the KB has had logistic support from the bureaucracy, the police and the LEAs (law enforcement agencies), they didn’t have any financial support. Also, the ‘go aheads’ are tough, she says, “sometimes due to red-tapism, and at other times because exhibiting certain art exhibits at public spaces is an expensive proposition and is not an opportunity these initiatives get for free.

“But it is very true that Karachi’s overall security situation has helped in this resurge as people are finding it safer to work on the streets.”

The KB17 programme is currently underway and Khwaja says the response from the public has been phenomenal. Seeing artists, and Karachiites in general reclaim public spaces, “I am very hopeful about the future”.

In Husain’s opinion, “if the Sindh government could inject life in the few existing libraries in the city, set up small reading rooms and lending libraries, raise a few cinema houses on the ashes of the old ones, the masses could also enjoy some cheap but quality entertainment, as the multiplexes in shopping malls are an expensive outlet, only suited for the moneyed minority.

“Karachi may well have another long lease of vibrancy that it used to have till the late 1970s when its populace lived without fear and enjoyed a vivacious and dazzling cultural scene.”

For Karachiites, that is the hope they cling on to.

http://tns.thenews.com.pk/reclaiming-life/#.Wfgx-WiCzIV

The lifafa culture and the materialistic desire to ‘earn’ more Eidee

Published: June 26, 2017

There has to be more to Eid than that stash of money the child tucks away.

Anybody who has grown up in Pakistan recognises that pretty lifafa (envelope) in pastel colours or in whites, embellished or plain, sometimes with just a name, at other times with loads of prayers written carefully. Inside, the coveted crisp notes and the smell of the currency printing press chemicals.

These notes give many a banker sleepless nights during the last two weeks of Ramazan, as clients are ready to both beg and intimidate bank officials for fresh notes. Fifty ya 100 walay (ones). Five hundred walay. 1,000 walay. Even 5,000 walay if the family is upper tier.

Getting eidi is the one time when we all enjoy feeling young because every one of us is younger than someone for the most part of our lives. When all those hands that used to give us eidi, the khala, nani and phupha are long gone, it starts to get lonely at the top.

While gifts are a part of Islamic culture and the exchange of gifts is encouraged in Prophetic traditions, eidi is a very specifically cultural manifestation of that in our region. It is that time of the year which children look forward to. As an expression of love and blessings from elders, it is a beautiful gesture.

But over time, something about eidi has changed. As purely money is involved, we see a certain materialism tainting this cultural tradition. The children of today are smarter than their yesteryear counterparts. They are not as interested in the wishes written on the lifafa. What they are interested in is the ceremonial adaab (salutation), and then running in a corner and quietly opening a bit of the envelope to peak in and see whether the currency is red, blue, or reddish-orange.

But then again, children are a reflection of what they observe their parents doing. Many parents, if not all, also take their child in the corner, ask what a certain relative gave, and return the money accordingly. The gesture has become more of a barter system.

While there is nothing wrong with enjoying the money we collect from elders, and it is in fact endearing to see children counting the money they get as eidi as an extended form of spending money, it is not in good spirit if that is all that the children are looking at.

The lifafa culture and this desire to ‘earn’ more has entered many a religious ceremonies. The Aameen ceremony (completion of the Holy Quran) and the Roza kushai (the first time a child fasts) have also become similar occasions where the focus has shifted from prayers and duas to money. The fault does not only lie with parents and children expecting eidi, as those at the giving end are too busy to go and buy gifts. Also, the eidi or lifafa usually cost less than the gift itself.

While money is a reality of life, such customs and attitudes of parents subliminally condition children to gauge people by monetary standards too soon. It is important to keep reminding the child that the one who could afford to give Rs100 only gave it with as much affection as someone who gave Rs1,000. There has to be more to Eid than that stash of money the child tucks away.

Instilling the right values on Eid may prove to be a challenge for parents. It is doable. But for that, attitudes of the parents would have to be up to the mark as well. Because when it comes to children, it is the parents that set the tone.

Childhood Interrupted – Child Marriage in Pakistan

Published: June 14, 2017
SHARES

Email

While there is an increased awareness about the concept of child marriage, much needs to be done at grass-root level. PHOTO COURTESY: Haseeb Siddiqui

While there is an increased awareness about the concept of child marriage, much needs to be done at grass-root level. PHOTO COURTESY: Haseeb Siddiqui

KARACHI: When Safiya was married off to a man, some 20 years older than her, she was barely 13. Her body frame was slim. She was still gaining height and had no idea about the physical demands of a marriage or motherhood. Within just three months, this resident of an underprivileged part of Karachi was expecting.

“My brother was married to my husband’s sister. It was a watta satta (exchange marriage). They waited only until the day I started menstruating after which I was married off,” said Safiya.

The birth of her first child, born premature, was an ordeal for Safiya. She received several pints of blood for transfusion as she was anaemic and she barely survived. Today, Safiya is a 16-year-old mother of two. She laughs when anyone asks whether she even prepared for the marriage and for the responsibilities of parenting.

“Does it matter now whether I was prepared for it or not? Girls have to do what they are told to do. In our social strata, this is just how it is. We are like cattle. We are born, married off to bear a child and eventually one day, we die.”

In Pakistan, according to lawyer and gender activist Maliha Zia Lari, the legal marriageable age for girls and boys in Sindh is 18, while it is 18 for boys and 16 for girls in the rest of the country.

“A marriage with a female child under the age of 16 is punishable under Section-498B of the Pakistan Penal Code 1860. In Sindh, punishments extend to girls aged 17 under Sindh Child Marriage Restraint Act,” she continued while shedding light on the legal aspects around child marriage in Pakistan.

Pakistan has recently outlawed child marriage and toughened penalties for those guilty of the crime in an effort to crack down on the practice estimated to affect one in five girls in the country. A minimum five years in prison that may go up to 10 years is the punishment, in addition to a fine of up to Rs1 million. A legislation passed by the National Assembly (NA) in February 2017, also bans forced marriage involving women from minority groups.

For a second time, the NA’s Standing Committee on Religious Affairs in the following month unanimously rejected a draft ‘Child Marriage Restraint Act’ aimed at increasing the minimum legal age for marriage of a girl to 18 years from 16.

Despite the laws and surging criticism, child marriage victims like Safiya continue to endure a cycle of lifelong disadvantages and miseries.

NA panel refuses to raise minimum marriage age for girls

Pakistan is also a member of the South Asia Initiative to End Violence Against Children (SAIEVAC), an inter-governmental body which has adopted a regional action plan to target child marriage. Yet, at the grass-root level, social attitudes remain static.

According to a Unicef report, State of the World’s Children 2016, at least 21 per cent Pakistani girls are married off before they turn 18. Now, this number on the ground is, of course, higher since a significant part of the populace in Pakistan remains unregistered. Therefore, they also do not show up in surveys. Almost 60 million children in Pakistan are not registered at birth – approximately 65 per cent of children in the country – according to Unicef.

Regrettably, the ramifications of underage marriages are also both physical and psychological.

Dr Azra Ahsan, a gynaecologist and consultant at the National Committee for Maternal and Neonatal Health, disagrees with the argument that a girl attains physical maturity at 18.

“All the organs of a woman including the genital tract continue to grow and mature until she is 18. The emotional maturity, however, comes much later. To me, a girl at 18 is still a child,” she stressed and added that marrying a girl at a tender age and then lumbering her with pregnancies and children is taxing her capabilities to the limits.

“Sexual relationship, pregnancy and childbirth are catastrophic for young girls. For them, a sexual relationship becomes a nightmare. Going through a pregnancy is a test of endurance even for grown-up women and one can only imagine what a burden it should be for a child girl,” said Dr Ahsan.

She maintained that when a fully grown baby tries to negotiate its way out through a small immature pelvis of a young mother, it becomes a harrowing experience for that child.

Man accused of child marriage sent into police custody for five days

“This not only results in a horrible agonising pain but can also cause pressure ischemic injuries to her genital tract and the adjoining organs. As a result, holes known as Obstetric Fistula appear between the genital tract and the urinary tract and/or the bowels. She then dribbles urine or stool constantly. The lives of young child mothers are literally nipped in the bud.”

For Samar Minallah Khan, an inspirational documentary filmmaker, a girl is forced to grow overnight into a child marriage.

“Child brides are at a risk of physical and emotional violence, and pregnancy-related complications. Depriving a child of education means perpetuating a cycle of poverty, violence and inequality. The very concept of a girl child as ‘someone else’s property’ prevents parents from investing in her future,” she said.

In Minallah’s experience, child marriages are mostly practised in the garb of culture and traditions. Once a girl child is betrothed, she becomes a property of the family that she is supposed to wed into. “There is no concept of documenting such [child] marriages. There are legal lacunas to determining the age of the child.”

Minallah’s documentaries mainly focus on culturally sanctioned forms of child marriages including ‘pait likhi’, ‘swara’, ‘vani’, ‘sang chatti’, ‘irjaai’, ‘addo baddo’ and ‘watta satta’.

“Not many urban Pakistanis know about the forms of child marriages and which is why more in-depth understanding and research needs to be carried out,” she explained. Minallah underlined that during January 2016 to May 2017; only over 35 cases of swara, vani and sang chatti were reported in the media.

Gender activist Lari wants Pakistanis to start talking more and that too openly about the impacts of child marriages in the society. “We need to emphasise that child marriages are void and not a real nikah. We need to provide economic incentives at community levels for families insisting them not to marry off their girls at a young age.”

Too young to marry: Police thwart child marriage in Khanewal

“Any action taken must be consistent, state-owned and sustainable,” she added while suggesting campaigns at schools and strategic intervention points for adults.

While there is an increased awareness about the concept of child marriage, few voices have also started making a lot of noise against it in Pakistan.

Designer Waqar J Khan and his team started one such campaign that made waves earlier this year with the hashtags #fashionforacause and #againstchildmarriages. The fashion shoot showed three girls dressed as child brides, juxtaposed alongside their photos in sportswear ready to take on the world.

“The purpose of the shoot is to build awareness about child marriage, and promote women in public spaces, especially the sports field,” said Khan.

Younger girls mean long birthing life, which is considered important in our culture. Lari feels that it is still a taboo to talk about women’s sexual and reproductive issues and the hush around the subject means that people do not actually see the human impact.

“The custom [child marriage] is linked to patriarchy, power and control. We hear statements like, older girls get too set on their ways as compared to the younger girls since the younger they are, the more adaptable she is.”

According to the gender activist, women in Pakistan witness several examples around them – their grandmothers and aunts – who were child brides and mothers and so they also think, if they were fine, what is the problem?

“There is a reluctance to see a girl as a child. She is seen as a woman as soon as she reaches puberty and thus must be married off before her sexuality becomes out of control”, complained Lari.

While there in a rising need to bring a change in the overall Pakistani mindset, Minallah thinks that stringent legislation, complemented by strong implementation was also required. Most importantly, supporting girls’ education is one of the single best investments a country can make to help poverty and prevent early marriages, she added.

“A girl who has completed her education is less likely to experience violence after marriage and have children when she herself is a child. Above all, she is more likely to be conscious and healthy,” Minallah concluded.

Preventing child marriage has a significant bearing on women’s education in the country. Therefore, it is important that the state must challenge unfair social norms strengthening child marriage by using legal and advocacy campaigning tools.

 

With additional input by Ali Rahman.