SWAT women face dual burden

Women in the Swat Valley in the Khyber Pakhtoonkh'wa province are working harder than ever to keep their households running
(Sarah Naqvi/Flickr)

Women in the Swat Valley in the Khyber Pakhtoonkh'wa province are working harder than ever to keep their households running.

To some extent this makes them happy, allowing them to reclaim lives put on hold during the militant Taliban reign, which ended in July 2009 after a military operation, allowing tens of thousands of IDPs to return.

"We are no longer compelled to wear the suffocating blue burqas imposed by the Taliban; the girls are back at school and women are again working in the cosmetic factories, the schools and so on from which they were forced out," Aqila Khan, 42, a social activist, who once again is wearing a white chador, told IRIN in Mingora, the principal town of Swat.

But though militancy has receded, women in Swat face a double burden. The devastating floods of 2010, followed by less intense but still damaging flash floods in 2011, took a big toll on agriculture, chiefly the maize crop. "This was our main money-earning crop," farmer Riaz Khan told the media in the town of Kabal in Swat.

The District Coordination Officer of Swat told IRIN that "reconstruction work in the valley following the floods was well on track". Bridges have been built by the military with foreign donor support and some efforts have certainly been made to restore livelihoods.

But still things are difficult and women frequently bear the brunt. "Lots of men work in the tourist industry here. Hotels and cafes were washed away in the 2010 floods, destroying all they had built after the militant conflict, and then there were major agricultural losses in both 2010 and 2011," Aqila Khan said.

Many women are struggling simply to put food on the table. "I sold the bangles I received for my wedding 10 years ago. It was all the gold we had but my husband had lost his job as a hotel waiter, and with the money we bought hens, goats and began replanting vegetables," Salma Bibi, 30, told IRIN.

Her problems are not over, however. "My husband is out all day looking for work. He is desperate. I tend our three young children, the animals, look after the fields, fetch water from a stream [7km] away from our village near Mingora, cut timber to cook and perform all the household chores. Other women work like me too to bring in money - but by the end of the day we are worn out. Look at my cut, torn hands," she said displaying her palms.

Taliban concerns

"I worry about the militants coming back because my sister and I were forced out of college for nearly two years and we cannot seem to catch up again. This means we cannot help our elderly parents by earning an income in the coming years," said Zaitoon Bibi, 18. Her brothers struggle to restore their fields and replant the peach trees they lost.

Many other women must take on the dual burden of earning an income and running the household as their husbands try to rebuild homes, lives and livelihoods. Given the acute losses experienced by the tourism industry, which employed tens of thousands, people are asking for more help.

"We have received no compensation and no help from anyone. We know that right now it is our wives who are keeping the households running. But this is unfair on them. We have to find a way to get back to work, and we believe the authorities must somehow help us," said Sharaft Ahmad, 36, whose wife works as a schoolteacher, as well as looking after the household and cattle.

"Things cannot continue like this for ever. We also live in fear of another disaster and somehow normality has to be found here so that families can live with some peace of mind and without continued strain," he said.


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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