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Sumeera Mehboob, Pakistan "Before the earthquake I was a housewife"

[Pakistan] Sumeera Mehboob Qureshi, Chairperson for the Women’s Camp Committee in Muzaffarabad. [Date picture taken: 02/10/2006]
Sumeera Mehboob Qureshi. (Ramita Navai/IRIN)

Sumeera Mehboob Qureshi is chair of the Women's Camp Committee, which represents 62 tented villages in the northern Pakistani city of Muzaffarabad and the Jhelum Valley. The camps are made up of survivors from the 8 October earthquake that killed at least 80,000 and made millions homeless. The camps are managed by the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Each camp has representatives and the committee, which was set up by the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), meets every Wednesday morning at the UN compound to discuss women's issues and problems in the camps.

Sumeera lives in Narrol 2 camp, located in a former hockey stadium in Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistani-administered Kashmir. There are 250 families in 225 tents in the camp, which has a population of 1,507.

"Our house wasn't fully destroyed in the earthquake, but it's too dangerous to live in now. When I came outside everyone was weeping and there was blood everywhere, some people had lost their arms and legs.

We spent five days without a tent and slept outside with eight other families. We then left for Kotlee village where my sister lives, but we came back after 25 days as my children go to school and my husband works. We moved into this camp, it's the nearest one to our home, and it's a spontaneous [unplanned] camp.

Before the earthquake I was a housewife as well as working in agriculture in rural areas, and I worked with Khoshali bank in micro-credit. Now everything's changed and I feel no security.

When I came back from Kotlee, I saw that women living in this camp had no opportunities and conditions were bad, there were no blankets. But UNHCR came and gave us 2,800 blankets, 365 sheets and 18 tents. Then we made a woman's committee, which is important because women understand women's problems, and women have many problems here.

Women can't share their problems with the male members of the family but now the women get together and share their problems. If they didn't do this they would suffer depression and trauma. We have violence problems, women's health and property problems. And the government has told everyone here that on 31 March all the people who come from the villages must go back.

But it is not possible because people have many problems, and due to the earthquake all of the hills and land have been destroyed.

Cooking is a big problem for women. The kitchen is in the tent and when I cook the stove gets very hot, there's lots of steam and it's very dangerous. I'm terrified. There is no balanced diet and the children are in a very bad condition. There is no water or sanitation.

I start my day at 6 o'clock and women can see me whenever they want, some come to me at 10 o'clock at night. I've made good friends and I've learnt a lot of things, it's given me life experience. When I meet these people I forget my own problems as they have so many problems. I help people, I do my job. I don't get paid but I do it because I feel better. When I sleep at night I feel better that I helped someone.

This is a male-dominated society; women cannot express their views, ideas or problems. The committee gives women power and confidence to stand on their own two feet. Some men have been positive and some have been negative about the women's committee, but we can work on it. It's been difficult persuading them it's a good thing as [here] the husband is the boss.

What I wish is for women to be able to stand on their own two feet, to earn their own money. I wish NGOs would help to make women skilled workers. It's important because when a bike has two wheels, then it can go forward. If both women and men go to work, problems ease."

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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