There is an alarming increase in poverty, unemployment and food insecurity and more so in the feminization of poverty. The feminization of poverty refers to a trend of increasing inequalities in living standards between men and women due to the widening of the gender gap.
Today, out of 4 poor Pakistanis, 3 are women, which represents 75% of the total population. Women living in poverty are often denied access to essential resources such as credit, land and inheritance. Their work is neither rewarded nor recognized. Their health care and nutritional needs are not prioritized, they do not have sufficient access to education and support services, and their participation in decision-making at home and in the community is minimal. Caught in the cycle of poverty, women do not have access to resources and services to change their situation.
Moreover, women who work without wages or exploitative underpayments are almost always deprived of their share of the family inheritance. Thus, most women do not own assets (land, property, business). They cannot afford to take their male relatives to court or risk the stigma of family shame and dishonor.
To address this very serious and growing issue, Sheema Kermani, leader of Tehrik-e-Niswan, recently organized a women’s peace table in Karachi, to highlight these issues and the steps needed to address them. . The interactive event included songs, performances and panel discussions – ending with a statement of demands. The esteemed panel included very prominent names such as Dr. Azra Talat Sayeed, Tahira Abdullah, Hoorunnisa Palijo, Veeru Kohli, Dr. Nighat Shah, Zarah Zaman and fistula survivor Razia who shared her story and captured the hearts of everybody. The panelists raised some very important points and told their journey of bravery and resilience in the spirit of empowering those who listen and assist.
There were many heartfelt performances from the artists and Sheema Kermani herself. In the front line there was a dance performance by two brilliant artists, who conveyed through their profound movements the subject in question. There was also the recitation of a very powerful poem that spoke of the sad reality of women and how they are deprived of their rights and their freedom. Finally, a very short but serious skit was played which spoke about the message of peace in a light-hearted way.
The statement of demands contained very important issues that are necessary to bring about change for the benefit of women and enable them to assert their rights. Some of the requests that need to be highlighted included; correcting national accounts (GDP) statistics and calculation methodology to quantify and include women’s currently unpaid/underpaid/non-formal work in macroeconomic datasets. Legislation to eliminate the economic exploitation of women and the devaluation of women’s work; formal recognition and registration of female-headed households (WHH).
The need to ensure women’s access to assets and creditworthiness, for example a policy of joint ownership of land titles. Proper registration of all female workers as formal labor (LFPR), especially rural agricultural women, urban homeworkers (HBW), domestic workers, industrial contract labor, bonded labor in servitude. Ensure equal opportunities through affirmative action for paid employment for women: job quotas in the public sector, maternity-paternity leave, childcare services, technical training, transport and hostels. Promote the creation of market-oriented jobs, education, skills training, credit and asset ownership for women.
All of these demands are key to empowering women and liberating those caught in the cycle of poverty and hunger. By giving women access to economic and educational opportunities, as well as the autonomy to take advantage of these opportunities, a significant obstacle to the eradication of poverty would be overcome.
Zubeida Mustafa was invited as a special guest and the event was organized and hosted by Qurat Mirza. The conference left a lasting and emotional impact on those present and, more importantly, gave hope for better days to come.
– Wallia Khairi