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Life after the partner – Being a widow in Pakistan

 http://tns.thenews.com.pk/life-partner/#.WqJpYehubIU

Today a widow is not ready to accept her traditional role in society of being dependent on others for everything in life

Life after the partner

Every family had a few such widows — some young and others older. Their presence was not considered auspicious, and they were supposed to lead listless sedentary lives devoid of any hope for a better future, waiting for stipends and hand-me-downs, with a looming sense of guilt as if that woman was somehow responsible for the death of her husband.

More than a decade and a half since we entered the third millennium, the widowed women of Pakistan find themselves a little ahead of where they once stood on the social ladder yet are still entangled in some deep-rooted traditions, stigmas and restrictions.

More than a decade and a half since we entered the third millennium, the widowed women of Pakistan find themselves a little ahead of where they once stood on the social ladder yet are still entangled in some deep-rooted traditions, stigmas and restrictions.

Farah Kamal, an education and development consultant, describes her journey decade by decade: she grew up in the 80s, got married in the 90s, and became a widow in the new millennium. “For those girls who grew up when I did, we were not raised to lead independent lives. When I became a widow, I suddenly found myself alone. And independent. Thus, for me, the societal attitudes posed the biggest challenge, more than the financial challenge as I was already a working woman and could support myself financially.”

With the loss of her husband, Farah was encouraged by people to start living with her parents and siblings or to get a relative to live with them, a suggestion she did not accept. “We have the stereotypical image of a widow. She should be depressed, subdued, dressed in sober clothes. But today’s widow is not going to sit in a corner dressed in white, dependent on others to give her charity.”

Read also: Journey to legal rights

It is not just the woman who has lost her husband that suffers the impact of social stigma that surrounds a widow. It is also her children. While Ahmer Ali was an adult when he lost his father five years ago, his experience and observing as a son what his mother has gone through has taught him a lot about the plight of a widow. “For my mother and my siblings, both finances as well as the emotional trauma were huge challenges, as were the social taboos. Take a small example that in our society a widow is supposed to dress as soberly as she can. My mother loves to wear bright colors but after my father passed away I observed she begun to avoid clothes of colour. However, I ensured that she wore what she liked,” he says.

Commenting on social attitudes, Ahmer confesses that if the prospect of his mother remarrying would have come up soon after his father passed away, he may or may not have been able to accept it. “Five years down the lane, I say to myself ‘why not?’. People need to understand that widows also have a right to lead their lives as they wish, and have a right to start afresh if they like. In Islam, there is no obstacle in a widow’s remarriage; it is in fact encouraged. The clergy needs to spread awareness about this. But instead of encouraging the widow to move on with her life, people make the one who is mourning cry more. Social attitudes towards widows need to change. It is time.”

For Nazia* (name changed on request), the experience was not entirely negative when it came to how people acted towards her after she lost her husband. “My friends and family were quite empathetic and helpful when it happened,” she says, but adds that the experience has been mixed, “Because on my husband’s first death anniversary, my relatives, and that too close ones, called and expected me to be crying and be really sad. Incidentally, my daughter got engaged two years later on the same date that my husband had died, and even my closest of kin said, ‘why did you do it on the same date?’ I got tired explaining that the boy’s sister was leaving the next day so I did not have an option,” she says. “To date, I feel people observe me intently, and expect me to be sad and depressed,” she adds.

Yet, life has not allowed her that liberty. Gaping challenges faced this mother of two when her husband passed away, leaving them in the midst of financial challenges. “I didn’t really get any time to mourn. I was out of the house on the fourth day for the death certificate. Who else was there to support me and my girls?” As her family did not own a house, Nazia had to arrange a place to live soon after becoming a widow, and started working full-time to support herself and her daughters. “I heard comments like ‘haan haan tum to buhut independent ho, tumhain kisi ki zaroorat nahin (You are a very independent woman, seems you need no one)’.” But she did what she had to in order to survive. “In so many ways, I have become a stronger woman since I lost my husband,” she says.

Another social attitude is the assumption that widowed women are on the lookout for a man to remarry. “My male colleagues stopped visiting me [even for work] because their wives did not want their husbands to interact with me,” says Farah. She poignantly describes the experience of being widowed: “It was like being off-loaded on a dark highway in the middle of a journey.” Her being a financially empowered single woman has proven to be another challenge, as men see such a woman as a lucrative prospect.

Advising young girls, Farah says girls need to be independent and educated to be able to support themselves if such a situation in life arises. She is also of the opinion that girls should weigh carefully factors like health and lifestyle of a man before marrying, because unhealthy lifestyles or diseases of a man may result in his prematurely leaving this world, and the widow being left to suffer.

“I hate when in the ‘marital status’ column, I am asked to write ‘widow’,” Farah says. “This status does not identify who I am. I have also realised that my happiness is my own responsibility, as is my survival. This trial has made me stronger as a woman.”

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A salon at home

 http://tns.thenews.com.pk/salon-home/#.WqJgfehubIV

Internet connectivity is helping a lot of beauticians who have opted for working from home

A salon at home

When Rizwana Raza started taking appointments at home as a home-based make-up artist and hair stylist more than a decade ago, her reason was not being able to leave young children alone at home, and to be able to manage her home while working. “It was a more convenient arrangement than working at salons that used to take up the entire day. This allowed me to juggle many things simultaneously, particularly being able to run my home and be there for my children,” she says.

All these years later, working from home still remains her choice even though she has been offered more lucrative full-time work options at well-known salons.

Home-based beauticians and make-up artists are all the rage in Karachi, and the reasons are many. A huge advantage which many make-up artists, like Qirat Baber, are using is the social media to advertise their work. “I was the first home-based make-up artist in the city on Snapchat. I use SnapChat, Instagram and Facebook to advertise my work. It is not without challenges as I only work by appointments so potential customers cannot just walk in to see my work and have to rely on photographs,” says Baber.

Home-based beauticians and make-up artists are all the rage in Karachi, and the reasons are many. A huge advantage which many make-up artists, like Qirat Baber, are using is the social media to advertise their work.

Yet she is very happy with working from home as it allows her to work in her own space, and at her own pace. Baber also appreciates the fact that she gets more undivided time with each client, and clients also have come to appreciate this rather than being in a salon that has many clients sitting in queues waiting to be dolled up. “Salons can become fish markets,” she says, sharing that she works with a single helper.

Another popular young home-based stylist, Rija Bakhtiar, started practising the art three-years ago, and now she has taken her passion to the next by setting up a salon at home. “Home was the only place at that time for me to start my business on a small scale. The working hours are flexible and the overheads are less as compared to opening up a studio. It has turned out to be my best decision,” she says. Internet was and is her only source of advertisement. She relies on Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook and Whatsapp.

All three make-up artists agree that money is also saved by the fact that they don’t have to pay taxes. “However, it is not like we have no overheads. The investment in equipment is a lot. Also, I mostly get my supplies online which proves to be quite expensive,” says Baber.

Read also: …boys mean business too

For Bakhtiar, one challenge is that she can’t cater to large numbers of clients. “I have to stick with limited clients to maintain a normal environment at my home,” she says.

One difficulty these artists face is that if they do not provide other services like waxing, threading and face polish, for example, their clientele becomes limited. “And many clients do not like the home atmosphere. They like the ambience and hustle and bustle of a salon,” says Raza.

When asked how she makes up for that disadvantage, she candidly answers that she does so by keeping her rates very reasonable, by serving them coffee and snacks and working on developing a rapport with them. “I make friends out of my clients. Once that happens, they continue coming to me.”

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

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

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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

Dialogue offers only hope for India and Pakistan: Water Laureate

In an exclusive interview with thethirdpole.net, he spoke about the India and Pakistan transboundary water conflict, and said that, in fact, he sees this as a potential chance for the two countries to foster regional cooperation.

Earlier this year in March, McCaffrey was named the 2017 Stockholm Water Prize Laureate for his trailblazing work and contribution to the field of international water law. He received the prize from King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden, the Patron of Stockholm Water Prize at a Royal Award Ceremony on August 30. The ceremony was conducted during World Water Week 2017, organised by the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI) being held in Sweden’s capital from August 27 to September 1.

Sitting in the Stockholm City Conference Centre a day ahead of receiving the prize, McCaffrey talked of how managing transboundary freshwater sources could become a solution instead of a problem for India and Pakistan. “Both India and Pakistan have found that cooperation produces more benefits and stability than conflict does,” he said.

India and Pakistan signed the Indus Waters Treaty (IWT) in 1960. In McCaffrey’s opinion, it is remarkable that the Indus Waters Treaty system, and the permanent Indus commission that it set up, has continued to function between periods of conflict. “Since 1960 there have been some 12 instances of armed conflict between India and Pakistan. Yet members of the Commission continue to meet. Why? Because water is vital. It’s the only avenue there is for the two countries to relate to each other with respect to these shared water resources,” said the academic who has also worked as legal counsel to governments in transboundary disputes pertaining to the Ganga, Mekong and Nile rivers. McCaffrey is accredited with articulating the human right to water, which was recognised in 2010 by the UN General Assembly.

As one who believes in dialogue as the only way out of a conflict, McCaffrey is in favour of commissions like the one formed under the IWT. “We find that cooperation through these commissions produces more benefits than no cooperation. I am sure India and Pakistan believe the same thing. Unfortunately, India and Pakistan are not so close, but if they keep meeting, at least there is some stability in the knowledge that the two countries know where they are with respect to the six streams of water that are divided between the two countries.” While saying that he is no political scientist, McCaffrey is of the opinion that such commissions help countries to communicate on a constant basis, which he sees as a starting point on the path to mutual cooperation. “There may have been some problems, but the IWT Commission is still in force and is still observed; in case of a problem they follow the procedures in the Treaty.”

McCaffrey recognises the water rivalry between the two neighbours. He quotes what he said in his remarks at the World Water Week that the root of the word “rival” comes from the Latin words for river and someone who shares a river with someone else. “This rivalry is not unique to India and Pakistan. But India and Pakistan have other issues that just exacerbate the issue.”

Read: Politics dictated Indus Waters Treaty from first to last

He feels that the water boundaries of the two countries are mapped out in such a way that it leaves the two countries in a world ripe for conflict. He adds that India and Pakistan’s conflict over water is one of the most difficult ones. “It is not because of the water per se, but because of the underlying relationship between the two countries that has historical explanations,” he says, adding that the water relations between countries are dependent largely upon their general political relations. “If they have good relations, they can work anything out. If they don’t, the tiniest problem becomes huge. Development of water resources being what it is, things tend to become cast in concrete, literally. You build dams, and it’s not easy to reverse a dam.”

For achieving a mutually beneficial result, McCaffrey is convinced that it would take a lot of goodwill and trust on both sides. “That is something that may be lacking to some extent in the case of India and Pakistan. It may be, then, that the only option is third party dispute resolution, where you have to live with the third party’s decision. However, the good thing is that third parties do realise the importance of achieving a balanced solution because if you don’t, the likelihood of acceptance is diminished. Because if [you do not have a balanced solution], the party that believes they got the better deal will trumpet that, and the other one will be disgruntled.”

He cites, as examples, the two famous cases of dispute between India and Pakistan that have gone to third parties – the Baglihar and Kishanganga dams. The case of the Kishanganga dam has been in the news more recently, as India is constructing two hydropower projects on the Chenab river. Pakistan had objected to the construction of the Ratle and Kishanganga hydropower schemes, saying that building them would adversely impact flow of the Chenab and Neelum rivers. Under the IWT, both countries had begun negotiations under the World Bank (WB), which has continued to broker the water treaty between India and Pakistan, two nuclear-armed neighbours with a track record of an easily combustible relationship.

Read: Win some, lose some, Indus Waters Treaty continues

While the WB paused its latest arbitration on the Kishanganga dam in late 2016, it recently allowed India to build the two dams, albeit with certain restrictions in light of the IWT.

In both the cases of Baglihar and Kishanganga, India contacted McCaffrey to advise them. “I end up advising one country or the other; that’s just how the system works. It’s unfortunate that these dispute resolution procedures are always, in any treaty, set up this way that there is an adversarial meeting instead of one that takes advantage of knowledge and different techniques of dispute resolution to achieve a result that is mutually beneficial,” he said.

McCaffrey feels strongly that in this era where the world is faced with the most pressing challenge of climate change, it is time both India and Pakistan show flexibility. “The unpredictability of the water supply is worrisome. The Indus originates in the Himalayas. The glaciers are going to melt which means too much water; you will get rain instead of snow. Does Pakistan have the storage capacity to handle that much water? Do India’s dams that are built under the IWT have the capacity to release that much water?” He mentions the very real threat of dams getting overtopped, in the event of historic, unprecedented flows of water.

McCafferey expresses his tenacious hope for a peaceful and pragmatic solution to Pakistan and India’s water disputes. “What I would hope for between the two countries is coordinated action and planning, so that the development of the water courses produces the most benefits for both – that’s the ideal. I would hope that the leaders of both countries could support this ideal.”

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
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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.

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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.

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“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.”

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“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.