Women hit hardest in quake aftermath -Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Paksitan Press Foundtion

Women hit hardest in quake aftermath

MUZAFFARABAD: Traditional coping systems have been stretched to breaking point following last year’s massive October 8 earthquake and women are bearing the brunt. Nearly 75,000 people died in the October quake that flattened towns and villages
Making some 5,500 women widows and particularly vulnerable. Gula Jan lost her husband seven years ago, but her position is typical of many of the wid­ows at Chelha Bandi camp for quake survivors, who are relying on the waning support of extended family.
“Since (my husband died] my brother has supported us, but he lost a lot in the earthquake and cannot support me anymore. He also has eight children of his own,” Gulab said from the camp, in Muzaffarabad. “I was a maid before but there are no jobs for me now. And even if 1 would find work again, it would not be enough for my family. Besides, 1 have no land either the earthquake took it,” she said. In the aftermath of the quake, vulnerable
Groups such as women have been hardest bit according to the government. The northern areas of the country are largely rural where women already struggle with gender discrimination, social exclusion, illiteracy, socioeconomic dif­ficulties and low incomes.
. According to tradition, women in this strongly conservative region traditionally stayed at home raising their children while men went out to work. Since the disaster their roles have changed drastically. Women are often the main breadwinners for the family where the male head of the household has either died or suf­fered from permanent physical disabilities.
The government’s Earthquake Relief and Rehabilitation Authority (ERRA) have estab­lished a social protection strategy to focus on vulnerable groups in the earthquake-hit districts of NWFP and Azad Jammu and Kashmir.
According to the ERRA, customary practices often denied women their right to inheri­tance and limited their access to property, income and livelihood options.
The government has recommended provid­ing technical assistance to vulnerable groups, including widows, but it would primarily only be available to property owners. For the@ poor majority who have no property, community based care options are being considered, but no plan has yet been finalized.
While the quake aftermath has highlighted women’s vulnerability, family and kinship structures have proved expedientin coping with another vulnerable group – orphaned children.
Nearly 41,000 children became orphans as a result of the earthquake and extended family members have spontaneously fostered nearly all. While most cultures consider children who have lost both parents to be orphans, in Pakistan a child who has lost his or her father is considered an orphan too.
Older women who provide for the protec­tion of orphaned grandchildren must ensure their own safety as well as that of those in their care; Ntiraii Bibi is a grandmother to nine chil­dren who lost their parents in the earthquake.
“I don’t know how it will work out. 1 cannot support all nine of them,” Nuran said from her shelter. Nabeed Bibi, 18, the oldest of Nuran’s grandchildren, goes to an Islamic school and will become a teacher within a year. Now living in Chamra Camp, also in Muzaffarabad, her future is uncertain. “I don’t know what will happen to us,” said Bibi. “When 1 finish school 1 cannot support the eight others and my grandmother. My father was a shopkeeper and my mother a housewife. We struggled then [before the earth­quake] but now it is hopeless.
Source: Daily Times
Date:9/9/2006