Even though thousands of people in our country remain internally displaced as a result of conflict in their home areas, there is no policy in place to address their concerns and very little awareness about their circumstances. This is even more true for the women who make up the displaced communities living in various parts of the country. Currently, there is no national policy to address the question of IDPs in line with UN guiding principles. In fact, the IDPs living in Punjab are essentially invisible to all of us. A new report put together by the Women’s Regional Network discusses the situation of these women as part of a larger report focused on Saarc member countries. The report from Pakistan discusses women, mostly from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, settled in Punjab.
Many women IDPs continue to suffer trauma as a result of the extremism, militancy or conflict they saw first hand before fleeing homes they had known for years. Many of these women had never been outside these home villages. In their new environment, they have been cut off from the social networks and links that sustained them in the past. As a marginalised community, even more marginalised than their male counterparts who in most cases go out for work, they live solitary lives, mingling at best with each other. Their insecurities and fears are profound and they remain outside any process of discussion on how to best handle the IDP problem or how to better their condition.
As the report stresses, clearly a major humanitarian response is required by the civil society and other actors. The women need to be interviewed and their specific problems identified. One of these is their inability to obtain National Identity Cards which means they are unable to avail even those welfare activities offered to other IDPs. And, of course, IDPs who move into areas where they become a minority suffer because of seclusion and their inability to interact with the mainstream population. The problem would appear to need a dual response. Host communities need to be sensitised to the problems of IDPs and women included in discussions as separate groups. The state needs to take on the responsibility of looking after IDPs and perhaps particularly concentrating on women, who often suffer the worst as a result of losing their homes while other groups must also work to find both short and longer-term solutions to the problem.