There is an alarming increase in poverty, unemployment and food insecurity and more so in the feminisation of poverty. Feminisation of poverty refers to a trend of increasing inequality in living standards between men and women due to the widening gender gap.
Today, out of every 4 Pakistanis in poverty, 3 are women which accounts to 75 per cent of the total population. Women living in poverty are often denied access to critical resources such as credit, land and inheritance. Their labour goes unrewarded and unrecognised. Their health care and nutritional needs are not given priority, they lack sufficient access to education and support services, and their participation in decision-making at home and in the community are minimal. Caught in the cycle of poverty, women lack access to resources and services to change their situation.
To add to this, women working for no wages or exploitative under-remuneration are nearly always deprived of their share of family inheritance. Thus, most women do not own assets (land, property, business). They cannot afford to take their male relatives to court, or to risk the stigma of family shame and dishonour.
To address this very mounting and serious matter, Sheema Kermani, head of Tehrik-e-Niswan, hosted a Women’s Peace Table in Karachi, recently, to highlight these issues and measures required to address them. The interactive event encompassed songs, performances and panel discussions - ending with a statement of demands. The esteemed panel included some very significant names such as Dr Azra Talat Sayeed, Tahira Abdullah, Hoorunnisa Palijo, Veeru Kohli, Dr Nighat Shah, Zarah Zaman and Fistula survivor Razia who narrated her story and won everyone’s heart. The panellists raised some very prominent points and narrated their journey of valour and resilience in the spirit to empower those listening and attending.
There were many heartfelt performances by the artists and Sheema Kermani herself. First in line, was a dance performance by two brilliant artists, who conveyed through their profound moves about the matter at hand. There was also a recitation of a very hard-hitting poem which talked about the sad reality of women and how they are stripped off their rights and freedom. Lastly, a very brief but earnest skit was performed which talked about the message of the peace talk in a light-hearted manner.
The statement of demands contained some very important issues which are required to bring about a change to benefit women and enabling them to gain their rights. Some of the demands which need to be highlighted included; the correction of statistics and method of calculating national accounts (GDP) to quantify and include women’s currently unpaid/underpaid/non-formal labour in macro-economic data sets. Legislation to eliminate women’s economic exploitation and devaluation of women’s work; formal recognition and registration of women-headed households (WHH).
The need to ensure women’s access to assets and credit-worthiness, e.g. joint land-property title ownership policy. The proper registration of all women workers as formal labour force (LFPR), especially rural agricultural women, urban home-based workers (HBWs), domestic workers, industrial contract labour, bonded slave labour. To ensure equality of opportunity via affirmative action for women’s paid employment: public sector job quotas, maternity-paternity leave, child care services, technical skills training, transport, and hostels. To promote market-focused job creation, education, skills training, credit and assets ownership for women.
All these demands are critical for empowering women and in freeing those who are caught in the cycle of poverty and hunger. By providing women with access to economic and educational opportunities, as well as the autonomy needed to take advantage of such opportunities, an important obstacle to poverty eradication would be overcome.
Zubeida Mustafa was invited as a special guest and the event was hosted and moderated by Qurat Mirza. The conference left a lasting and emotional impact on those present and most importantly, gave hope that better days are coming.
– Wallia Khairi