by Noor & Asghar Khan
As the nine hundred years old Altit Fort gets completely restored in the year 2010, not only would facade of the ancient fort have changed in the middle of Hunza valley, a deeper social change would also have taken roots in terms of perceptions regarding gender roles in the society.
Traditionally labour of the the female folk of Hunza was limited to bringing up children, grazing animal, watering crop fields, collecting wood for fuel, grass for the cattle, or doing other indoor choirs, as allowed by the society. However, with the passage of time the women of Hunza adopted other roles entering other mainstream professions, like teaching, medicine, politics, social development and, recently, the armed forces. This was made possible by the education system introduced by His Highness the Aga Khan, through AKDN.
Now, the women of Hunza have taken yet another step towards social emancipation.
Seventy percent of the total people working on restoration of the fort are trained female skilled workers. Female electricians, carpenters, masons and plumbers restoring the Altit fort are making history by venturing into new areas of opportunity and expression, hitherto considered forbidden for the “fair” sex.
The restoration project is undertaken by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture. The trust has trained and employed a large number of women of Hunza, creating new opportunities of earning livelihood for half of the population, while also breaking taboos that limited choices for the women to a selected number of gender roles, as determined by a patriarchical society.
It is, now, also important to further work for objective sensitization of the society at large regarding the changed gender roles and their implications. One major negative implication can be lesser work available for the men who used to perform such tasks in the past. This might frustrate a segment of the society, no matter how small.
What is required is a holistic, inclusive, strategic planfor balanced social development where the emancipation of one segment of the society does not shrink choices for the other, neutralizing the impact of change. This is vital for maintaining social harmony and family life, in a changed and charged social environment.
Men of Hunza have, logically, been supportive of the processes that have led to creation of the society that we have today. What they need to further understand is that when the social roles are changed, rules of the game of social life also change, by default. They will have to learn to live and compete in a beautifully different and a meritocratic society.