Oxfam in Pakistan
A Chance for Change: Women in Kashmir
Literacy lessons are the backdrop for women living in Kashmir to examine their lives and roles within their communities. The literacy programs are part of Oxfam Canada’s efforts to help rebuild communities devastated by the 2005 earthquake and the 2010 floods.
Humanitarian work can trigger long-term development and provide an opportunity to showcase women’s strengths and abilities. It can be a chance for change.
Photo (right): The woman in the beige headscarf, through discussion about gender roles, realized that she was favouring her son over her daughter.
The 2005 quake rocked the Kashmir region. The earthquake left 79,000 Pakistanis and 1,400 Indians dead and another 3.3 million homeless.
The catastrophe tore through the calm of a ceasefire, in a region long bruised by poverty and the India-Pakistani conflict. Kashmir, a stunningly beautiful chain of snow-capped mountains and fertile valleys, has been left undeveloped as India and Pakistan struggle for control over the area, a battle that has limped along since 1947.
Neglect has left Kashmiris without decent access to roads, schools, hospitals and other basic services. Entire towns and villages were wiped out by the earthquake. In Bagh and Neelum districts in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir, Oxfam Canada is working with local partner Strengthening Partnership Organization (SPO).
Responding to Disasters
Oxfam’s intervention aims to help restore the dignity of women, men and children affected by the earthquake and to strengthen their capacity to respond to future disasters.
Through training sessions, with the participation of communities, local partners and government and election representatives, awareness of disaster risk management has increased significantly.
Women and Work
Culture, tradition, poverty and politics have all contributed to keeping women living in the area cloistered. About 60 per cent of Kashmiri women cannot read and many are widows, having lost their husbands to the conflict. They are vulnerable to violence, limited in their opportunities to earn an income and frequently shut out of decisions about community development.
Oxfam Canada distributed goats to 500 women living with a disability, widows or living without visible means of support. Keeping livestock is common in the area and is the chief responsibility of women. The women also participated in animal husbandry training.
Women and Education
Oxfam Canada also helped establish the Adult Literacy Centre, where women learn to write their names, or other skills such as writing grocery lists or adding up sums. Most importantly, daughters want to learn as well, reversing the usual practice of not sending girls to school.
“Having literacy training is a pretext for discussing women’s rights,” Lalanne said. “The literacy programs can also be used to discuss issues such as water and sanitation or how to protect children around the home.”
By renovating schools, enrolment by girls has improved and the drop-out rate has reduced, creating better opportunities for women and girls to get quality basic education.
Women Advocating for Change
Women are more confident and communities are becoming stronger. One community approached the government with a plan to install electricity in 250 households. Women, in an area recovering from disaster, are claiming their rights, transforming communities and capitalizing on a chance for change.
by Mbonisi Zikhali, Oxfam Canada volunteer