Sang Chatti: when women lose all
As the world marks Women's Day today, Kolachi discusses how the day carries little importance in the lives of women in a society that continues to be dominated by patriarchal traditions. Hafeez Tunio reports
Tears pour out of Fareeda Bibi's eyes as she stands outside the mortuary of the Teaching Hospital Larkana, awaiting the body of her daughter, who was axed to death by her husband.
Sakina, the deceased, was just 20 when she was forced to marry her husband, 54, as part of 'Sang Chatti', or compensation, to settle a dispute over land between two families in the Banglani tribe in Jacobabad. Last month, however, Sakina's husband murdered her on suspicion of having an affair.
The decision to give Sakina away was decided by the jirga, but when Fareeda learnt this, she was not prepared to comply. "I was ready to sacrifice everything but my daughter," she says, grieving. "I pleaded with my husband not to give in, but he didn't listen."
Sakina's death does not come as a surprise to most people in the village. Killings associated with Sang Chatti are on the rise in upper Sindh, claiming innocent lives in the districts of Shikarpur, Sukkur, Khairpur, Larkana, Qamber Shahdadkot, Ghotki, Kashmore and Jacobabad everyday. In many cases, the tribes involved are Marfani and Jafferani, Jatoi and Maher, Bhaya and Jakhrani, Jatoi versus Jatoi, Marfani and Brohi, Jaiha and Shar, Kakaipota and Brohi, Bhutta and Maher, Soomra and Jatoi. What is Sang Chatti in Sindh is known as Vani in Punjab and Swara in the NWFP, and all involve girls given away in marriage to settle a dispute. Some are adults, but many are minors. Others are even betrothed before birth. There is no wedding ceremony, and the girl loses all respect. In many cases, she never sees her family again.
According to statistics collected by the NGO Society for Protection of The Rights of the Child (SPARC), around 170 women, including minor girls, suffered such a fate in 2008. "Last year, 71 cases against people holding jirga were lodged at various police stations, with most of the cases involving 'Sang Chatti," says Khadim Rind, District Police Officer (DPO), Shikarpur. Sang Chatti cases are registered under section 301-A of Pakistan Penal Code, with offenders liable to being sentenced to ten years in prison.
Meanwhile, as of April 2004, jirgas have been banned by the Sindh High Court. "Judges sitting at the High Court and Supreme Court take suo motu action against people holding jirgas and many cases have been registered so far," claims Yousuf Leghari Advocate General, Sindh, when talking to Kolachi.
Regardless of the ban, with disputes on the rise, jirgas continue to be held in rural parts of Sindh. But chieftains of the tribes are not the only violators. "Even government officials and elected representatives are involved in the jirga," points out Naseem Bukhari, a local journalist and writer. These jirgas are held at circuit houses, gymkhanas, and district council halls, with chief ministers, MNAs, MPAs all involved, along with district police officers (DPOs) and district coordination officers (DCOs).
Bukhari points out that former chief minister Dr Arbab Ghulam Rahim supervised over 300 jirgas concerning murders from the Jatoi and Maher tribes at Circuit House, Sukkur, along with several members of his cabinet. "How can you expect people to follow the law when a chief minister of the province holds jirgas?" Bukhari demands to know.
Leghari admits that even with the ban in place it will take time before the jirga system can dissolve completely, although not everyone is convinced that the jirga system should go altogether. "Crimes involving kidnapping and murder should be left to the courts, but jirgas can be used to settle petty disputes," says Paryal Mari, member of the Human Rights Commission Pakistan (HRCP).
But in many instances, these petty disputes are settled in exchange for women as Sang Chatti. In one shocking case, all it took to spark a bloody feud between the Chakrani and Qalandri tribes was a dog from the Chakrani tribe having a drink from a pond belonging to the Qalandri tribe. The clash that followed claimed six lives from the Chakrani tribe and 11 lives, including five women, from the Qalandri tribe. The jirga ordered 15 minor girls from the Chakrani tribe to be given away to the Qalandri tribe. When news of this was picked up by the local media, it was termed baseless by the tribes.
Baseless or not, those who are found guilty by the jirga system have no choice but to follow through with the decision. Failing that, they flee to safer areas, like Eijaz Mirjat in Shahdadkot, who was ordered to give away his daughters Tasleem, 4, and Farzana, 5, after the girls' uncle was accused of partaking in a Karo Kari case. Mirjat refused to part with his daughters. It has been learnt that in retaliation, Mirjat was charged with stealing wheat by a landlord of the area in May 2007, and after receiving multiple threats, the family was forced to leave their ancestral village. "It is a disturbing trend," says Marri.
The HRCP became actively involved when in the summer of 2006, two sisters Heeran, 8, and Karima, 6, were sentenced to be married off in the village of Murid Sethar, (12 kilometres away from Shikarpur). Their grandfather, Ramzan Sethar, ran a buffalo trade with Imdad Sethar, a landlord. Desperately needing money, Ramzan was forced to sell his cattle, but neglected to inform Imdad. The jirga fined Ramzan an amount of Rs170,000, or asked him to give away his two granddaughters as compensation. Ramazan could not afford to pay the fine, and signed an affidavit to give them away. However, when the case attracted the attention of the local media and subsequently, the HRCP, matters turned around. "We filed a petition in sessions court, which barred the force marriage," says Marri.
But such instances are rare. According to Marri, in 2007, 102 women were forced to marry after a Sang Chatti verdict. "The jirga system should be treated as a criminal offence," says PPP MPA Humera Alwani. "Most of its victims are women who are given away as Sang Chatti."
While talking to Kolachi, she adds that it is the top priority of legislators to make laws and banish the jirga system altogether. "Being a woman, I have submitted a bill against jirgas in the Sindh Assembly, but unfortunately it has not been taken up for debate and discussion," she says.
However, not all in Alwani's government are in agreement with her. Sardar Jam Tamachi Abro, another MPA of PPP and also chieftain of all 'samaats' (Non-Baloch), believes that the impression many people have of the jirga system is the work of an NGO working on "foreign agenda", and serves only to create a misinformed impression of Sindh. Tamachi is convinced that the jirga system is efficient and provides quick justice.
"The judicial system confuses many people," he says. "Cases tend to pile up and proceedings take a lot of time. Jirgas are the only way of providing quick relief to the masses."
Despite Tamachi's argument, the majority of observers feel the jirga system has failed, and serves only to strengthen the feudal system. It has been noted that even after a jirga reaches a decision, it is not long before a clash erupts again between the tribes in question.
At the same time, while many blame the jirga system, there are those who also blame the state, along with the police force, for the degenerating law and order.
But Rind, DPO Shikarpur, refutes the viewpoint and is quick to defend the police force. "The police force is functioning as well as it can," he says. "When a dacoit was killed in a police encounter three years ago, the jirga fined the police personnel with Rs800,000 as penalty. Action is taken against whoever is responsible."
But the decision of such non-judicial mechanisms results in further injustice, argues Anis Haroon of the Aurat
Foundation and points out that unless they go, there will be no progress. She denies Tamachi's allegation that NGOs have a "foreign agenda" when it comes to jirgas, and is adamant that all they want is to put a stop to discrimination against women.
"We are just raising awareness," she insists. "Women are being treated like animals, and until the state performs its duty, there can be no change."
Could this be a comeback?
Residents of the city complain that out of the few parks Karachi has, nearly all lack facilities for outdoor games, but the Olympian Iftikhar Park is the one park they cannot find fault with.
Named after former Olympian and hockey player Mohammad Iftikhar, the park was inaugurated a year ago is situated in Block-6, Gulshan-e-Iqbal. The idea for the park was conceived by Town Nazim Wasay Jalil and made operational by Iftikhar himself, who is president of the park. Part of a series of parks constructed by the City District Government Karachi (CDGK), the Olympian Iftikhar Park stands out with its own jogging track, hockey ground, basketball court, badminton court, and table tennis room.
"The initial idea was to provide playground facilities in a neighbourhood park," explains Waseem-uz-Zafar, Coordinate Secretary Olympian Iftikhar Park. "We wanted to build a park with sports facilities to give the youth of today a new direction."
With the exception of badminton and table tennis, which are played by people of all ages and regarded as a leisure activity more than anything, every sport has a specialised coach who holds training sessions three to four times a week so that activities can run in an organised manner.
"Tanveer Ahmed, a basket ball coach of the national team, coaches both boys and girls. We regularly have around 130 girls who come to the park just to play basketball," says Zafar. "Meanwhile, a large number of children and teenagers come here for hockey lessons, which Iftikhar is in charge of."
The park has its own security unit and is open to the public from Fajr prayers to 9:30 a.m., and then from Asr prayers until midnight. Zafar says that is full of people of all ages, who come here either for exercise or just entertainment.
"Parents usually take a walk while their children play around them," he says. "Every day after Isha prayers, senior citizens of the colony come here with their table tennis racquets and play for a long time."
Many of these senior citizens are members, but even non-members can use the park's facilities after paying an entry fee of five rupees. In addition to being secure, the administration of the park does not tolerate any untoward behaviour. "If we see anyone misbehaving, we cancel their coaching for the day and ask them to jog instead," says Zafar.
It was learnt by Kolachi that there is more in store for the Olympian Iftikhar Park. After holding discussions with the CDGK, authorities plan to create a karate club, swimming pool, and squash court. Meanwhile, the CDGK has additional plans to replicate this model park in other parts of the city in order to promote sports in the youth. "We aim to build 12 cricket, football, and hockey grounds," reveals Liaquat Ali Khan, Executive District Officer Parks.
(Un)fulfilled promises of the PPP
With the rise in cases of violence against women, activists are not optimistic that the plight of women in the country will diminish
By Shahid Shah
Pakistan may have its first female National Assembly speaker, but throughout the country, a majority of experts' mark the occasion in a sombre manner and are convinced that Women's Day is no cause for celebration. "There seems to be no intent to change the constitutional articles that deny rights to women," laments Ghulam Mustafa Lakho, an advocate and social activist.
Lakho bases his view on article No. 2 of the constitution, which states that Islam is the state religion of Pakistan. "This article is the base of all laws against women," declares Lakho. "It has been protecting the Federal Shariat Court, Hudood laws ever since."
The disappointment Lakho and others feel is intensified by the fact that when the PPP came in to power, it had vowed to turn things around for the downtrodden women of the country. The manifesto of the PPP states that the party would constitute a national employment policy for women, where the quota of job for women would be doubled from 10 to 20 per cent, allowing women to play an important role in strengthening the economy. Furthermore, the party stated that public institutions would stop honour killings and forced marriages, and pledged to engage women judges at family courts during custody cases and other matters.
But a year after the PPP's coming into a power, none of this has happened. The much-discussed constitutional package takes into account the powers of the president and the prime minister, but there is no package concerning human rights in general or the rights of women in particular.
"The PPP government has failed to focus at the grass-roots level," says Anita Shah, writer, activist and CEO of the Trust for Rural Uplift, Culture and Environment. "The central and provincial governments remain engaged with other political problems. In the past, the PPP supported women empowerment more than dictators did, but the past one year has been disappointing." It is a sentiment others are in agreement with. "Compared with the previous governments, there is has been no improvement in the condition of women folk," says Paryal Marri, District Coordinator Human Rights Commission Pakistan (HRCP). To the PPP's credit, Marri admits that the government has been providing poor women with land in katcha areas, but adds: "That land is occupied by influential people."
However, PPP MPA Humera Alwani rejects the notion that little has been done. She concedes that with cases of domestic violence and general abuse of women on the rise, there is still a long way to go, but argues that there has been progress. "You cannot initiate accountability in one year," she adds.
As part of her post, Alwani is working on legislation against the harassment of women. She has been known to frequently visit Maria Shah, the acid burn victim whose death made headlines in the media recently. After having acid hurled into her face, Maria had to be driven from Shikarpur to Karachi for treatment. Upon seeing Maria's condition prior to her death, Alwani has suggested that there should be at least one burns centre, along with an intensive care unit, at all divisional levels.
The attack over Maria Shah and her subsequent death has put the plight of women around the country into the spotlight, as well as raised questions over the safety of women at work. According to Alwani, part of the reason cases such as that of Maria Shah continue to be reported is due to the easy availability of acid in the market. "There has to be legislation against this," she insists.
However, Marri of the HRCP believes the issue runs much deeper than that. "The problem lies with feudalism," he says. "Most ministers are feudal lords, and they have denied women the right to education, with around 85 per cent of girls' school being closed in upper Sindh."
Schooling is a rarity among Sindhi Syed families, but Maria Shah's parents went against the norm and sent their daughters to school regardless. Years later, when Maria was continually harassed by Aslam Sanjrani, the rickshaw driver who drove her to school every day, the family was forced to leave their home in Shikarpur. However, Sanjrani arrived in the new locality and after a failed kidnap attempt, splashed acid onto the young woman's face.
When Baqar Shah, the victim's father, approached influential persons in the Sanjrani clan, most of whom occupy top slots in the PPP, no action was taken. Shah says that while his daughter was in hospital, the government had promised to shift her abroad for treatment but that did not happen. "After her death, they promised a job and some financial help, but we have received nothing so far," Shah told Kolachi. Today, the family continues to receive threats from the culprit, leaving Maria's younger sisters' education at the stake. "I have stopped sending them to school," says Shah.
With such cases thwarting the chances of women in underprivileged areas receiving an education, Marri is not optimistic that the plight of women in the country will diminish until they are empowered.
Kolachi prepared a list of reported cases of violence against women between March 2008 and March 2009.
March 1, 2008:
Woman commits suicide
A 25-year-old woman committed suicide in her father's house after continuous mental torture.by her family
Man kills wife
Man killed his wife under the charges of violence against women.
Girl sexually assaulted at Quaid's Mausoleum
A 19-year-old girl was subjected to sexual assault by five men in the premises of the mausoleum where she was held captive for 36 hours.
Illegally detained woman rescued by police
A female trader had been detained illegally by the owner and the staff of a hosiery factory, after she had demanded payment for items that she delivered to the factory.
Minor girl raped
A nine-year-old was raped by a 20-year-old man, while former was going to her grandmother's house in her neighbourhood
Kari seeks protection
A young widow, who chose to remarry with her consent, says that her life is in danger and urged authorities to provide protection as she has been declared Kari and fears that she and her husband will be killed.
Man kills wife, alleged paramour
A man killed his wife using a brick on suspicion of illicit relations between the deceased in the wee hours of the morning.
Two women fall victim to domestic violence
- 35-year-old mother of seven was shot dead by her brother-in-law on suspicion that she had illicit relations with her neighbour.
- In a separate incident, a young girl was killed by her husband over a domestic dispute.
Anti-honour killing project on the rocks after UK funding ceases
The local advisory committee formed to continue running the anti-honour killing campaign, launched by the British Council in November 2004, has lost interest in the project since the UK government stopped funding when the project ended in March 2007, The News has learnt.
Woman allegedly beaten to death by the police
A 45-year-old woman was allegedly beaten to death by the Investigation Police during a raid at her house.
Girl says her rapists had police links
A 14-year-old girl was kidnapped from her doorstep and was continuously raped for two days by three men.
Woman assaulted by brother-in-law
A 38-year-old mother of four was raped by her brother-in-law continuously for two days.
Teenage girl found dead
The tortured body of a teenage girl was found dead by a sweeper in the AC compartment of a train, while he was cleaning the bogie. The deceased father said that she went to the market two days back to purchase bangles but did not return.
132 women murdered in 91 days: report
Around 132 women were murdered in 91 days (April-June 2008) most of them victimised by their spouses, a research conducted by the Aurat Foundation revealed.
Minor sold into marriage
A 12-year-old girl was sold by her family to an old man in greediness of money.
Five women buried alive
Five innocent women were buried alive on the pretext of Karo-Kari.
Concern shown over violence against women
According to a report of Madadgaar, some 11,681 cases of killing; 4,031 cases of rape; 311 cases of gang rape; 12,964 cases of severe torture; 6,111 cases of Karo-Kari and 1,869 cases of burn were reported in the last seven and a half years in Pakistan.
Sixty per cent female Haris sexually abused: report
According to a survey carried out by PILER in the bounded labour settlement around Hyderabad, 60 per cent of the women responded that they were sexually abused during the period they remained bonded with landowners.
Rapists still at large:
Three unidentified persons raped a married woman after abducting her near her children's school.
Slave girl escaped from captivity in DHA
A seven-year-old girl who was allegedly purchased by her captors and kept in captivity as a slave for a long time, managed to escape.
PA condemns all forms of violence against women:
The Sindh Assembly unanimously passed a resolution condemning all forms of violence against women. The assembly recognised this day as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.
Teenage rape victim attempts self-immolation:
A teenage girl, who was not being able to bear the ignominy after she was allegedly raped by her cousin, returned home and tried to immolate herself.
An 18-year-old married girl was hanged to death by her husband over a domestic dispute.
Wife allegedly murdered by a husband:
A 25-year-old was murdered by her husband after a quarrel at home. The man slit his wife's throat during the fight and fled.
Woman murdered in Korangi:
A 40-year-old married woman was slaughtered by unidentified people who barged into her house due to some personal enmity.
Women in every third household face domestic violence: report
Women face violence in every third household of Pakistan in the lower, middle and upper class families but it goes unreported at all levels and in poor households domestic violence is not generally considered as a form of violence, says a report
February 5, February 10:
Women killed on suspicion of infidelity:
A woman was tortured to death by her husband and brother-in-law. Both the men had a dispute with Azra and suspected her of infidelity. They attacked her on the head with a blunt object.
Maria Shah dies of acid burns:
Maria Shah, a 25-year-old lady, sustained burns when a young man threw acid on her as he fell in love with her and the girl's parents refused to allow him to marry her.
Separate courts to decide juvenile women's cases soon: CJ
Addressing a Sindh Judicial Conference, the Chief Justice said that the law required posting of women judges in every district to handle woman-related litigation.
--By Sadia Hanif
Kolachi interviews Sharmila Farooqi of PPP and Nadia Gabol of MQM, whose appointment into the Sindh government raised many eyebrows
Adviser without portfolio: Working in every field
By Aroosa Masroor
Sharmila Farooqui, Adviser to Chief Minister Sindh, is not a new name to controversy. Daughter of the former Chairman of Pakistan Steel Mills, Usman Farooqi, who was a bureaucrat and close friend of President Asif Zardari, Sharmila's appointment as an adviser in October last year raised many eyebrows.
Many accuse her of being appointed on the basis of her father's friendship. But this is something she strongly refutes. "Is being a friend of a political leader a crime? Why is it assumed that all public servants appointed by the President or a senior leader are incompetent?" questions the 29-year-old. Sharmila, whose fragile frame should not be mistaken for physical weakness, she says.
Sharmila has emerged stronger from her time in jail when she and her mother were detained for nine months in 1998 and 2000 after her family was accused of corruption by the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. That is now behind her. Sharmila now says that she believes in offering solutions, not tea, to her visitors. "When I was prison, I always heard the jailers say: yahan to sirf chai milegi ya maayusi. I want to avoid that typical culture in government departments."
The Adviser holds a Master's degree in Law and has also done an MBA. She says she wants to use her position in the government to serve the public and reach out to people at the grass-root level. "My efforts have been more at the micro-level than the macro-level. I am trying to make small changes that will make a big difference in those people's lives whose voices remain unheard."
Since she took charge five months ago, Sharmila has mostly pushed for prison reforms because she feels she can empathise with people in jail. "Every time I visit the prison and listen to prisoners' grievances, I know they are not lying, because my family and I have been through the same. I have experienced hard times in prison and I know how one lacks even the most basic facilities."
Aiming to improve their living condition to some extent, some of the reforms she brought include increasing the daily meal budget in prisons from Rs32 to Rs50 per head and handing over the jurisdiction of prisoners from the court police to the jail police to ensure a speedy trial for under-trial prisoners. For people in prison, these are significant steps.
Similarly, after witnessing the poor toilet facilities in Dadu prison, she got new bathrooms constructed and also coordinated with the Sindh Health Minister to treat the scabies infection widespread among prisoners. For this initiative, she says has received a positive response.
But her work is not limited to jails. At the Sabzi Mandi in Sohrab Goth, there was not a single dispensary or basic health unit for hundreds of vendors supplying vegetables to the entire city. This is now under construction, thanks to her efforts.
Sharmila Farooqui is of the opinion that as an adviser without a portfolio she is able to serve the people in different ways. "My job in this case is not confined. As soon as I receive a complaint, I don't have to wait and check whose jurisdiction it is and make sure I'm there on the spot to observe the situation and report back to the CM."
However, she is quick to add that if given the opportunity to focus on any sector, she would choose health and education. "I particularly want to work towards improving the standard of education of the female child. I also want to work with the youth of our country because they have new ideas and (at times) better solutions to problems. They are our investment for the future," says the ambitious young lady.
However, she admits that the journey is not easy. "I did not even think I'd end up in politics," she confides to Kolachi. Unlike her father and uncle, Salman Farooqui, both of whom were bureaucrats, Sharmila aspired to be a barrister, but charges of corruption against her entire family, court trials, and imprisonment prevented her from doing so. "After finishing college from Karachi, I went to the London School of Economics to study Law, but could only stay there for a month and a half as my name was soon on the Exit-Control List. My entire family back home - my parents, uncles and cousins - were being harassed in every manner possible. I had to return."
Sharmila recalls how her family was extensively investigated by officers of the NAB, FIA and harassed by officials at KESC (who would issue electricity bills worth Rs1 million) and other government departments during Nawaz Sharif's tenure in 1996-97. "My mother and I were also roughed up by the women police during imprisonment," she says pointing at a scar where her left-collar bone was fractured. "But my source of strength was Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto, who advised me to remain strong. "
Being the only daughter, the responsibility of contesting the charges against her family also lay on Sharmila's shoulders. "The case dragged on for 12 long years," she says. "Our plea to quash the case was also rejected. Even though we came clean during the FIA and NAB investigations, that report was never released. Instead, a concocted statement was prepared in which we were given the choice to either surrender to the corruption charges or face imprisonment. After what my father had been through, we had no choice but to choose the former."
At that point, her family and well-wishers advised her to leave the country, but Sharmila's resolve to stay in Pakistan only grew stronger. While her uncle spent a few years in exile in the US and her father a few months in Germany, Sharmila decided to stay back and fight the system. "Whether good bad, this is my country. I would never want to leave it because this is where I belong," says Farooqui, now a PPP loyalist and a committed member of the Sindh government.
From London to Lyari
By Aroosa Masroor
Coming from a family of politicians like Abdul Sattar Gabol and Nabil Gabol, one may assume Nadia did not have to struggle to make her way through the world of politics, but on the contrary, she had no support from either. Not only because she was the first woman in the Gabol family who dared to contest elections, but also because Nadia Gabol chose to side with the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), unlike her late grandfather and uncle, who were with the PPP.
"I still remember when I was in college I asked my uncle (Nabil) if I could join politics, but he discouraged me and said that women have no role in politics. That left me completely shocked, because he was a member of the PPP whose leader was a female," recalls the 28-year-old Sindh Minister for Human Rights and MQM MPA.
Not only is she a new face from the Gabol family, her ministry is the first of its kind in Sindh whose affairs were earlier managed by the Federal Ministry of Human Rights. "When I took oath and was given this ministry, I did not even have an office. I just had a car with a government registration plate and a Pakistan flag," she says, adding that before she could take charge of the affairs of the province, she had to look for an office first. "I could not believe that no minister held this portfolio before in a province where the highest number of human rights violations occur," exclaims the young Baloch in her heavy British accent.
Born and raised in the UK, Nadia holds a Master's degree in Criminal Studies. Unlike most of her relatives settled abroad, Nadia wanted to return to Pakistan. She particularly wanted to serve the people of Lyari in Karachi, where her family home is located. "I had seen my father and uncles participating in politics, but being in London, I was not much aware of how the system worked here. I knew if I wanted to bring some change in the lives of my people, and the only way to do it was to become a part of this political system, which is largely dominated by men."
Her frequent visits during her vacations kept her close to her Baloch roots, but Nadia had little knowledge of the politics in Sindh. "I had always wondered why Lyari remained so neglected and why areas like Gulshan-e-Iqbal and North Nazimabad were much cleaner than my area. It was also disturbing to read on websites and in news reports that Lyari is one of the poorest and most dangerous parts of the city."
It was not until she campaigned for the general elections in 2007 that she realised the truth in such claims. "Lyari was gripped in tension because of the gang wars, but I still went from door to door for my election campaign. Nobody from the opposition was there. Things were so tense that even my driver abandoned me. I drove around the area myself because I didn't just want to buy votes on my name – I wanted to convince people personally that they could count on me."
Had it not been for the death of Benazir Bhutto, Nadia feels her party stood a strong chance of winning from Lyari this time, as some of most basic problems of the area had been solved by the MQM in the past years, even though it was not their political constituency. "But her death came as a shock to us all and as expected, PPP won the sympathy vote."
While in London, apart from her studies, Nadia had been a social worker at the Pakistani Community Centre that helped resolve issues of Pakistani families based there. It was on March 20, 2006, when she got an invitation from the MQM UK to attend the Youm-e-Tasees celebration (Foundation Day of MQM) that she got introduced to the party. Back then, Nadia did not expect to join the MQM, but she changed her mind after her meeting with the party chief Altaf Hussain. "When I met him, I told him I wanted to work for the people of Lyari in Karachi where I belong and he instantly agreed." Nadia was under no pressure to serve in MQM-dominated areas only, which impressed her. She was then formally inducted as a member of the MQM, the main coalition partner of PPP in Sindh.
Currently, her ministry receives complaints mostly from women in interior Sindh, which makes the young Gabol wonder what Women's Day celebrations are all about. "I find it ironic that Women's Day is given so much hype in a country like Pakistan where most women are not given their basic rights and respect." Nadia suggests that if one has to mark the day and make women feel special, something should be done to make a difference in their lives. "We should be doing things like introducing a better transport system for them, not give speeches," she says. "If there is something I would want to do, it would be this so they can commute confidently to their workplaces or colleges, instead of being pushed and shoved in their limited compartments in public buses daily." But when her department is facing teething problems, with their first budget approved only last month, there is little she can promise at this point.
Since Nadia has spent most of her time in the UK, she can't help comparing her country's political system to that of the UK, and sometimes find it difficult to adjust. "It is tough," she confesses "but I will find my way through." She adds that she will only speak for her ministry when she has achieved something and when "the time is right". Until then, the new politician says she enjoys being a silent observer in Sindh Assembly sessions.
Can you name four women ministers in the Sindh cabinet with portfolios?Can you name four women ministers in the Sindh cabinet with portfolios?
Urooj Khan, 24, Student: "I can only think of two names in the Sindh cabinet, Shazia Marri, Sindh Minister for Information, and Shehla Raza who is the Deputy Speaker of Sindh Assembly."
Sofia Saeed, 28, SQA Engineer: "Shazia Marri, Sindh Minister for Information, is the only name I know."
Ramesh Kumar, 25, Janitor: "No I don't know any women minister's name."
Tasneem Yaqoob, 37, religious scholar: "I can hardly remember any. There is some Marri who mostly comes on TV. I don't know her portfolio."
Azra Rehman, 20, Dress Designer: "I know almost all the women ministers of our Sindh cabinet, they are; Shazia Marri, Sindh Minister for Information; Sassui Palejo, Minister for Culture; Nadia Gabol, Sharmila Farooqi and Shehla Raza who is the Deputy Speaker of Sindh Assembly."
Muhammad Qasim, 24, waiter: "I only know of one, but cannot recall her name."
Sylvia Jaffery, 23, Student: "Shehla Raza, Deputy Speaker of Sindh Assembly, Shazia Marri who is the Sindh Minister for Information, and Sassui Palejo, but I don't remember her portfolio."
Hina Ahmed, 26, Teacher: "Shazia Marri is the Minister for Information and Sassui Palejo is Minister for Culture. These are the only two I know."
Ayaz Khan, 22, chai wala: "I know Shazia Marri is a minister but I don't know her portfolio."
Content behind the wheel
On the streets, people stare at her, mock her and even harass her, but Fareeda drives on with determination
By Fasahat Mohiuddin
Throughout her childhood, Fareeda Aziz never laid eyes on the inside of a school, but today, for five days a week, going to school has been carved into this middle-aged lady's routine.
Totally illiterate, she does not teach there, nor does she study there. In her own rueful words, "What can I possibly learn at school now?"
Instead, Fareeda has dared to step into a profession dominated by men: she drives a school van. For Rs7,000 a month, Fareeda leaves her house at 6:45 a.m., picks up a set of children in a Suzuki pickup, and drops them to various schools. And then picks them up again after their school gets over, finally winding her way back home after 3:00 p.m.
On the streets, people stare at her, mock her, even harass her, but she drives on with grim determination.
"I am used to it now," she says with a shrug. "It doesn't bother me anymore. If anyone starts to follow me, they usually give up after I change directions. Besides, after seeing school children in the back, people usually leave me alone."
Fareeda's upbringing was not a happy one. The first blow struck when she lost her mother to cancer at the tender age of two. Her father later remarried, but also died a few years later, after which Fareeda and their sisters were sent to live with an uncle, where she still lives. Fareeda has bitter memories of her stepmother, and blames her for never allowing her or her sisters to go to school. Ironically, her father worked for the Sindh Board of Technical Education, but to this day, Fareeda cannot read or write a thing. She is totally illiterate. Throughout her miserable childhood, however, there was one thing she adored: driving.
"I had a cousin who taught me to drive. It's something I enjoy doing, so why not do it to earn a living?" she says.
However, she is stumped when asked how she got her driver's license. "The way everyone does," she says, shaking her head at what she clearly thinks is an obvious question. "You pay a bribe and get a license in return. Everyone knows that."
Necessity has forced Fareeda to become a dab hand at dealing with minor breakdowns, although changing a tyre can still cause her to break into a sweat. "Whenever I have a flat tyre, I have to wait around for help," she admits. "If nothing comes my way, I gather all the kids up in a taxi and drop them home."
To earn money on the side, Fareeda also ferries parties to and fro for picnics on weekends. She gets no time off in between leaving the house and getting off work. Her job is stressful, despite her enviable hours.
Ideally, though, she would like more clients, because the amount she keeps after filling up with gas and petrol barely covers her needs.
"How is anyone expected to save anything when everything costs so much?" she demands to know. "Everything has become so expensive, I can't remember the last time we had beef in the kitchen. Even daal is almost unaffordable. If I didn't enjoy driving, or if I had a better option, I wouldn't be doing this. I have absolutely no savings at all."
Fareeda does not own the pickup she drives, although she desperately wishes she did. Still, despite her enthusiasm for being behind the wheel, this is not Fareeda's dream. She resents having never had an education, but is realistic about joining an institute now.
"I have my hands full with this job as it is," she says. "I couldn't manage having to take classes. And anyway, I'm too old."
Wistful though she is about never having gone to school, Fareeda is resigned to her situation in life. She is still single, and after seeing both her sisters get married, she vowed never to go down that road herself.
"It scares me," she confesses. "My sisters went through a terrible time. I never want to go through that."
A furrow creases her brow. "I suppose if I could continue to be a driver after marriage, I could consider it," she says as if on second thought. "But I know that is all wishful thinking," she finishes with a sigh.
For now, Fareeda is as content as anyone in her position could be. Her parents have died, her sisters married poorly, she takes home very little money, but after years of driving the children around, she has made a new set of friends. "I enjoy my time with the school kids," she says of one of the few bright spots in her life. "They are quite friendly."
The other working woman
They don't look glamorous. They don't have the best paying jobs, but they still work hard without complaining
By Haya Fatima
Bashira is a mother of five and a housemaid. Like all other women in her position, every day she goes from house to house to do the sweeping, mopping, dishes, cooking, laundry, ironing, grocery chopping, somehow finds the energy to walk back home, and do her own housework.
She vowed that her children would have a better future than her. "I sent them all to school," she says. But neither Bashira nor her husband can read. As a result, they could never judge how well or otherwise the children were doing at school, and after three long years, Bashira finally pulled her children out. "No one at home could help them with their schoolwork and they couldn't do it on their own," she says.
Bashira is one of the many working women in Pakistani society who are often overlooked. To most, the term 'working woman' is regarded with a certain amount of awe. A sense of confidence and authority oozes out from such a person, who is usually considered to have defied convention and created a niche for herself in an otherwise male-dominated society.
However, housemaids, who are the sole breadwinners of the family in many cases, get paid a meager amount for their exhausting duties and are not given a second thought to. In the wake of the soaring inflation, it is becoming increasingly difficult for them to put three meals on the table everyday.
"Sometimes our employers just do not understand our situation and only think of their own comfort," complains Maqsooda, a housemaid.
Maqsooda's troubles are not just financial. Six months ago, her daughter was kidnapped, allegedly by relatives. The incident left Maqsooda emotionally scarred, but she laments that her employers fail to understand her plight. "Most of them are nice, but some showed little interest in my problem and cared only that I turned up everyday."
However, whilst many housemaids have little hope for their family's future, those who are employed by Amina Khatoon, a housewife for almost 50 years, may have a chance. Amina is determined to educate whoever she can, and as a mark of her dedication, employs only those maids who agree to stay behind and have some lessons with her. For years, she has been teaching her employees basic Maths, how to read and write in English and recite the Quran. Others, however, point out that education is not the only form of assistance. "I always do what I can for my maids on special occasions like Eid or a wedding, or whenever summer or winter is around the corner," says Nusrat, a middle-aged housewife. "Making new clothes for the whole family is expensive, so I keep a check on my and my children's wardrobe throughout the year. As soon as I find something that is in good condition but of no use to us, I keep it aside to hand over to my maid."
In this bleak horizon, however, there are still success stories that stand out where housemaids have managed to move up the socio-economic ladder. Aasma, a grandmother of five, started out as a housemaid. One of her employers took in her eldest son, Shakil, when he was ten, and put him through school right up until his matriculation. They later arranged for him to be an assistant at a mechanic's workshop, and today, Shakil is the proud owner of two garages.
"It hasn't been easy," admits Shakil as he reflects on the journey that has brought him here. "I had to work very hard to get to where I am today. If it hadn't been for my mother's employers, I would not be here."