Fri. Dec 14th, 2018

Gender Debate in the Transitional Society

By: Yasmin Farman

Gender and Development calls for deeper understanding of the socially constructed roles, responsibilities and attributes of men and women in a given culture, and how it affects relationship between men and women, and overall development of the society. According to gender point of view, successful development does not “target” women, it empowers them. Therefore, development processes should not isolate women in their policies and programs. Also, any development initiative should address men and women through “gender mainstreaming” which ensures men and women have equal access to resources, benefits of development and policies.

Gender and Development is a burning issue of the time but it is mostly misunderstood. It is seen as the only need of the women, rather than considering it as a wider social issue. Due to its myopic understanding development process is hindered by baring women from participating in the development of the society. In today’s world only those societies have progressed which have empowered women. It is the women who can help the communities to come out of poverty trap and sustain development.

Like other parts of the world, the prevailing roles, attributes and activities of men and women in mountain societies of Pakistan such as Gilgit Baltistan and Chitral (GBC) are due to the socio-economic, physical, geographical and cultural conditions of the region.  Gender inequality is still prevailing in the communities of GBC because it is still deeply embedded in our culture, traditions, and economic, social and political systems. Women in these areas, particularly the rural women suffer from oppression and inequality in the society, which is not only harmful for them but for the development of entire region.

Before the construction of Karakoram Highway (KKH) and interventions of development organizations, Gilgit-Baltistan was an isolated andextremely poor area.  In the early 1980s, more than 80% of the population was living below the national poverty line; infant mortality was very high and maternal deaths during pregnancy were very common in the region. Feudal legacy, social  and geographic isolation, illiteracy among people, poverty, subsistence economy,  traditional and segregated  set ups had contributed to unequal treatment of women in various spheres of life. Although women’s contribution in agriculture was significant, they were excluded from ownership of land as well as other physical andfinancial assets. They had no participation in decision making at household and societal level. Moreover, due to low literacy rate, lack of skills, and restricted mobility, they had no access to market and other social sector services.

In order to help people to come out of poverty trap, in 1982 The Aga Khan Rural Support Programme (AKRSP), started mobilizing people to make them realize their innate potential and manage development through collective actions and achieve economies of scale through the formation of Village Organizations (VOs) in different villages of Gilgit-Baltistan and Chitral.  Soon after, AKRSP felt the gender inequality in the region and realized that without the participation of women, the development of the region will not be sustainable and complete, hence started the formation Women Organizations (WOs) in the region.AKRSP being the pioneer in Gender Empowerment in Gilgit-Baltistan and Chitral, it has a vision to free men and women from poverty, and to create an environment where men and women both live with dignity and have equal opportunities of development in the region. That is why it has integrated gender themes and perspectives at levels of its programs and projects from inception to implementation phases.

Owing to developmentinterventions by governmental and non-governmental organizations, the level of awareness on gender equality in GBC has increased. Now, women have access to social services, increased number of women are getting education and a significant number of women are entering into the job market. Many women are enjoying higher career positions in various sectors, and some are running their own businesses. At household level women’s participation in decision making has also improved.

However, despite many improvements, the patriarchal norms, traditions and gender stereotyping is still prevailing in GBC region. The social ethos is still hampering women empowerment and development. In some areas of the region, women are still confined to the walls of their homes. On the other hand, men arefree to participate in public and religious spaces.In rural areas, women engaged in agriculture alongwith other responsibilities, including taking caring of the family, managing livestock, bringing water and collecting fuel wood. Despite being overburdened, women’s contribution is still not recognized for they are not allowed to take decision about income accrued from agriculture. In addition, their mobility is highly restricted. Due to this, women cannot participate in economy and society as productive and active members of society.

In the culture of Gilgit-Baltistan and Chitral, women are neither given ownership of land and other assets, nor do they have participation in decision making at household and societal level. Thus, making them dependent upon the male members of the family. Some of the familiesstill prefer boy’s educationover girls. Also,women are not given freedom to make important decisions about their life including career, field of study and choosing their life partner. Moreover, in some parts of region honor killing of women still prevalent but hushed under duress by tribal and patriarchal social set up. Women in the region are still not free to make their choices. They are still dependent on what is dictated by traditions, and it is tradition that defines their social role. Any deviation from traditional norms and roles is a sin.The change and empowerment of women will start if we change the mindset that deems freedom and empowerment of women as sin to the mindset that celebrates empowerment and progress.

The writer is a development practitioner based in Gilgit. Email: jasmine-ali@hotmail.com

 

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