AURAT FOUNDATION WORKING FOR WOMEN EMPOWERMENT IN BALOCHISTAN

SYED FAZL-E-HAIDER
Nov 05 - 11, 2007

According to the 1973 constitution, all Pakistani citizens are equal, with no distinction based on gender alone. The state can also make special provisions for the protection of women. The constitution ensures the full participation of women in all spheres of national life. Women have the right to vote and to hold office, with a quota of seats reserved for women in national and provincial legislative bodies. Unfortunately, constitutional guarantees of equality have not been enforced in actual practice. In the tribal society of Balochistan, the women are socially, economically and politically marginalized. Women lack assets and opportunities in the province. They have no social safety-net, particularly in rural districts women are bound by practices that affect welfare and make it difficult for them to attend schools and clinics. For lack of lady doctors, health has become a major problem for women in rural districts. Violence against women in the name of custom is rampant.

Aurat Foundation is working for the last 25 years in achieving its objective of women empowerment in Balochistan. The foundation has specifically focused on three areas, namely, political empowerment, economic empowerment and violence against women. In November 2005, it launched Homenet Pakistan program, which is aimed at improving the economic lot of the home-based workers in the province. Homenet Pakistan is the member organization of Homenet South Asia, which is affiliated with Homenet International.

In an interview with this scribe, Haroon Dawood, the provincial incharge networks of Aurat Foundation and Saima Jawaid, the provincial coordinator Home-net Pakistan, told in detail about the ongoing activities and success stories of the foundation and the constraints it has been facing to achieve its objectives in Balochistan.

"Ours is basically an information service foundation. We have networks in 13 districts and we are working with 91 NGOs and CBOs in the province. We have opened 355 information network centers in Balochistan", said Haroon Dawood.

He told this scribe that by organizing debates with different communities in the province, the foundation has actually tried to aware the people about the women's rights guaranteed in the constitution of Pakistan. The foundation has taken certain confidence building measures to mobilize the people for achieving its objectives of women participation in economic and political activities." We think once the women are economically and politically empowered, they would be able to combat violence against them and protect their constitutional rights.

In Balochistan, the economic participation of women differs from that of men. Most of the household work is done by women and most of the outdoor work is done by men, whether economic or social. Women are involved in activities like fetching water and wood, looking after animals, collecting fodder, processing milk into butter, curd, and cheese and working with wool. They are also responsible for cooking, cleaning, taking care of the children and other dependent members of the family, producing handicraft articles etc.

The women in Balochistan are engaged in various economic activities like livestock grazing, cattle breeding, sewing, cutting, embroidery work, carpet weaving and rug-making. The women lack the opportunities to market their products and hence they are exploited by the middle men who purchase their products at throw away prices and make handsome profits by selling them in the national and international markets at higher prices. "We train home-based workers in skill-development and marketing. We also provide them access to market by developing linkages. We also give exposure to their hand-made products by organizing exhibitions, said Saima Jawaid.

Saima Jawaid identified some major constraints and problems; the organization is facing in launching its Homenet program in Balochistan. The province has a scattered population and a tribal culture. The general characteristics of a tribal society are prevalent in rural areas of the province. The society is patriarchal and male dominated. While the decision-making is in the hand of men, women have no say. Women are subject to male domination. They are deprived of their right to inherit. In most social groupings men hold a monopoly of power in the public arena. In the political domain, local level chiefs and tribal authorities are always men, as are the members of local councils of elders or jirgas. It is rare to find examples of parallel women's groups, from which women leaders may emerge and collective action be planned. Men also set the terms of moral and cultural values. Religious authorities are all men and local cultural codes of honor stem from a male value system, which often have components based on the subordination of women.

There is lack of data about the home-based workers. The disorganization of these workers is another problematic area in the province. Saima said. "We are however doing our best to collect more and more data about the home-based workers and launching awareness campaigns across the province to benefit the people". "In Balochistan, presently 99045 home-based workers have got membership of the Homenet Pakistan, she added.

The embroidery involves a lot of eyesight work as one has to concentrate all on stitching without losing a trace, otherwise it can spoil the work. The important thing in needlework is cleanness and sophistication of stitching. In rural areas females spend longer time in needlework and doing it in night under a lamp, are prone to eye-sight problem. "Advocacy is an important component of Homenet program, through which we are trying to build the capacities and linkages of the women workers so that they could get the fair price for their hard work", informed Saima.

Balochistan economy cannot grow and the province's enormous economic potential cannot fully and efficiently be exploited without active participation of local women, which make a significant part of the local population. No human development strategy is workable in the province without dynamic participation of local women in economic activities. A few women have joined the formal sector through government jobs, especially in the field of education. Since 1995, the government has started employing girls who passed middle school as Lady Health Workers (LHW) under the Prime Minister's Programme for Primary Health Care and Family Planning. However, most women are either deprived of income generating activities or being exploited by being underpaid or not paid at all. The help they offer through grazing livestock and performing agricultural tasks is considered of no economic value. Women are still striving hard for their economic independence.