Pakistani Women Take Up Reconstruction Challenge
People who attended the US Social Forum in Detroit this past June may have heard Bushra Khaliq, General Secretary of the Women Workers Help Line, speak on the situation of working women in Pakistan. The majority work within their homes; jobbers come around to pick up their work. So often they do not know what company they are producing for or who else might be working for the company. At the US Social Forum she was able to meet with precarious workers here.
Bushra Khaliq wrote a brief report on the 1st of September based on her visit to Kot Addu:
Taking up the challange with new hope
As flood waters are receding in areas of Kot Addu, people are beginning to shift from temporary camps back to their villages. After spending two to three weeks in relief camps and experiencing untold miseries, some families have returned to their ravaged villages only to find their houses have collapsed, either partially or completely. People are returning by walking, by riding cycles, tractor trolleys or donkey carts, and loaded down with usable items; whether empty water cans, boxes, rations or animals--often goats and poultry. Broken roads, caved-in bridges, tilted railway tracks, ravaged crops and the rotten smell of stagnant water present a sad picture of the land, which was lush green with standing crops only a month ago.
Many other families still reside in the camps. Today I visited a few camps and villages near Kot Addu. There are 300 camps in Lakhay area with about 2500 inhabitants. Life is miserable in these camps. The tents are very small, with space for only two charpoys (beds). With no separate toilets for women, they have to go to the nearby fields to answer the call of nature. Cholera and malaria are spreading, particularly among children and the elderly. They need medicines against malaria and stomach-related diseases. Women need rations and utensils so they can to cook but relief is lacking. They are also in need of under garments.
After visiting the camp I also visited three villages: Basti Moradabad, Basti Seikhan and Basti Reharwala. These Bastis revealed horrific pictures of destruction. Only few structures were still had four walls intact. The kacha houses completely vanished while brick houses are partially damaged. The families have started repairing their houses and dwellings. Since men are still with their cattle, it is women who are first to return to home. With whatever meager resources are available they are carrying out repair work. They are collecting bricks, wood and straw to remake their dwellings. Some of them are busy plastering walls with mud.
In their dilapidated houses, they are searching for valuables and needed items including clothes, shoes and quilts. They resurrect them from the mud and waste in order to make them reusable. Their kitchens are vanished, and there are no pots, no utensils. Still they need food, medicine, fodder, quilts, carts and new clothes for their children. Others are finding grain and spreading it out to dry in the open.
The majority in these villages are sick, suffering from fever and malaria. So the women not only take up reconstruction work without waiting for outside help, but they are also looking after the sick members of family. Since most of the relief operations are limited to the camps, there is a real fear is that those returning to their villages will be forgotten. Relief workers have to reach out to the families who migrated back to their villages. Being in their own devastated and destroyed houses does not mean they are safe and out of the misery. The level and degree of daily needs for these newly returned families are similar to the needs of families still inside the camps. Seemingly invisible to the eyes of the camera and relief workers, these returning families need a continued supply of relief items at least until the time their kitchens are repaired.
These families are facing the huge challenge of restarting life from scratch. The women I talked to were very worried about not having cash or in-kind goods to purchase clothes for their family, particularly their children, for the coming Eid-ul-Fiter. They were also worried as winter will be approaching soon and they do not have warm clothes, blankets and quilts.
NOTE: If you are interested in contributing to the relief effort, the Women Workers Help Line works through the Labour Educational Foundation, a non-governmental agency. The easiest and quickest method of transferring money is via Western Union. (Until September 15 Western Union will transfer the money without charge.) Wire money to Khaliq Mohmood, Director of the Labour Education Foundation in Lahore, Pakistan. When Western Union transfers the money the clerk will give you a number. Then write Khaliq Mohmood at firstname.lastname@example.org and provide him with the number and the amount transferred.