Tuesday, June 29, 2010

From business to home- women, religion and customs

Few days before, when in evening time, I was doing some shopping, I saw a girl standing at the front desk. This made me think of those thousands of girls and women who have no freedom of choice and decision to earn for their own and for their families. All the time, I remained in the shop and after I was on my way to home, I kept on thinking what actually freedom of choice is for such girls, especially living in conservative societies. I also thought about those who really want to work but are either not allowed due to cultural constraint or have no access to income generating opportunities. Unfortunately, our society first thinks that girls and women should not work and then think about why they actually work. And often they don’t care about the word “WHY”.

We rarely think of a girl or woman who leaves her home for 8 hours or more for job, with all the trust and hopes that she brings with her from family and earn because she needs to feed her family. However, this is the scenario where job for a girl is not a choice but a need for survival. We have to think a step ahead of this, where job is not only a need but a freedom of choice. Just like a men can search for job with all freedom, despite of the reason he needs to feed his family or not, the same should be a case for women to have a respectable job of own choice.

Unfortunately, people have made a perception that this is something a hurdle created by religion- Islam. However, the fact is, this is not religion, but self made customs or I will say, male dominance which take the decision from the hands of a woman, even some time when he is not actually suppose to make such boundaries. When I think what wrong perception is being spread among all of us about religion, I really feel sad. Religion is a strong base for shaping our lives in more respectable and dignified manner. By the word “our”, I mean both men and women. Islam never stop a woman or a girl from earning in a respectable manner and mostly the “respectable manner” in Islam demand an environment that we all need to create for a women to do a respectable job of her decision.

This is so amazing to know that the holly prophet, Muhammad (PBUM) married a woman who was a business woman. This example is so inspiring both for men and women. This is very crystal clear that religion has never been an obstacle for women and girls to earn, but this is what our customs that creates such obstacles. The holly prophet used to discuss with his wife Hazrat Khadija in every hard time. There is very famous saying in Islam that seeking knowledge is the duty of every Muslim. By the word “Muslim”, it means very clearly both men and women. A good knowledge, of course, is a strong base for a respectable business and we cannot deny a strong logic behind it.

One of the most powerful aspects of women empowerment begins from home. When a girl is born, Allah says, she brings blessing to you and your family. Religion gives her a status of pride which, unfortunately, societies alter for their so called customs. A girl, when a sister, is source of happiness for her brother, a companion when a wife and a heaven when a mother. The strongest point in my view is not to consider woman or girl a week or dependant member of the society, but a respectable member with full right of freedom in decision making.

Back to 2007, when in a free time, I was having chat with one of my foreign manager. She said that, in her country when women is standing in a line with men in bank or shop, she cannot break a line and will wait for her turn, whatever if lots of men are standing before her. She further talked to me that, in our society, women are mostly allowed to go ahead before men, irrespective of line rules. By this, she meant more respect for women in our society and I was happy hearing this from my manager that she appreciated such respectful acts of men in our country. However, some time I also think that it can be more than a respect only. May be this is a consideration that woman are not week and can wait for their turn. This point also make me realize that whatever be the situation as right or wrong in different cultures and societies, important thing is, not to continue making our own perceptions alone, rather, create an opportunity to consult women on what they really think about it.

If in present situation, we, the men dominate society by many means then, again it comes back to our sense of thinking and realization to do our efforts for creating conducive environment where we all are equal in rights with freedom of choice and dignity. And there is no question about it because, if religion, which we believe upon, gives this right to women, then how come we humans can deny it. Coming back to the thinking of that girl standing at the front desk of shop, I really wish she feels happy that she is able to do her job and earn for her family and this is not only something that make her to work at any cost rather a freedom of choice for herself.

Monday, June 28, 2010

A journey from darkness to light, new hopes new ambitions

It’s one of the wonderful experiences for a remote community of Chokana, Balakot and the staff of World Vision Pakistan. Excitement begins as the community initiated planning for installation of community based micro-hydal plant to enlighten their village with new hopes and ambitions.

World Vision facilitated the community of Chokana in developing their five years’ village development plan, where community identified issue of rapid depletion of precious forest due to non availability of electricity in their village. Consultation led to the consensus of community for installation of micro-hydal plant as they had enough source of water from a natural spring in the village.

World Vision Pakistan staff, especially our climate project connectors helped the community in planning, designing and implementation of this community based project with the technical support from WV engineers.

Today, the community of Chokana is so excited when this 15 KV micro-hydal plant started supply of electricity to 58 households. The project cost Rs. 750,000/- with 10% community share.

The project will not only decrease community dependency on forest wood for fuel but also provide a continuous supply of electricity in the village. Children will be able to study at night. It will also improve community living standard through utilization of electrical appliances and reducing physical hardships of women in number of domestic chores. Chokana community is also planning to install a water mill to utilize the diverted water channel from the plant to produce flour and irrigate their lands for crops production.

We anticipate that this project will not only contribute to conserve natural environment of the area but also generate livelihood sources for local poor communities. It will also help local community to understand climate risks, usefulness of available natural resources and increased community resilience through climate change adaptation initiatives.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

All the best TCP presenters for "Our Choice"

Dear presenters,

Unfortunately, I couldn't make it possible to join you all in Our Choice training but I congratulate you to be with TCP today again for a great learning. You are really fortunate that today you are present here in the very first training of Our Choice. I wish you take maximum benefits of each and every second of this great event and become a source of change for our world with the SOLUTIONS you are going to learn today.

I know you are having best climate campaigners right now in Nashville to equip you with the best knowledge and skills for your ambitions of safe planet, however, I would also say, if you have two strong qualities in yourself; Motivation for Change and Volunteerism for Action, you can really make a difference. And I can tell you the name of a wonderful person,I am inspired from as well, having these qualities. His name is Hon. Al Gore!

So let's be committed with TCP, where ever we are, and continue to own our campaign and our actions as "Our Choice".

With all my love and sincere prayers for you dear presenters;

TCP presenter from Pakistan

Monday, June 14, 2010

We observe the changes but we don’t know about CLIMATE CHANGE- Some direct observations coming from local communities

It is really strange and unfortunate when someone ask about climate change to those actually suffering from its adverse impact and the answer he gets is, NO, I don’t know what is it.

This was the situation which our assessment team of WV Pakistan faced during the detailed need assessment in Nathiagali. Everyone in Pakistan knows about Nathiagali, being one of the most famous tourist resorts in the country. Every year thousands of tourists from all around the country, including from abroad, visit this heaven on earth, especially in the month of June, July and August to enjoy cool pleasant weather when the entire country is too hot. People coming to this area think this is one of the developed areas in northern parts of Pakistan. However, this is not the reality.

People get this perception of developed Nathiagali after travelling over just a kilometer road surrounded by number of hotels, beautiful shops and some expensively built houses. However, if someone goes in down streams, he/she would quickly start observing how difficulties the life is. Can someone imagine while walking on that one kilometer beautiful road, there are families living downstream who have to walk some time more than two hours to fetch water for drinking? It’s a snow bound and very hard terrain and I still remember when few years back, this areas was totally cut off from rest of the country for more than three weeks due to heavy snowfall and there become severe food shortage for families living in this area.

Nathiagali constitute major forests reserves of existing 4.7% forests of Pakistan. Tourism, agriculture and livestock are the major sources of livelihoods in this area. However, our assessment team observed that one of main poverty reasons is the impacts of climate change which these people are totally unaware of. While asking about the term climate change, the answer was simply NO, however when went into deep discussion, there were lot of information and responses from local communities, making it very clear how climate change is impacting these people and their livelihoods.

Some of the direct responses from communities show that changing weather patterns and uncertain rainfall has significantly impacted agriculture sector and reduced crops productively of this area. People have now become heavily dependent on external markets and spend extra money for purchase of food items for daily use. Assessment result shows that about 67% of the households from this area earn less than the actual expenditure per month. This further makes the current insecure food situation more volatile for poor families. Assessment team analyzed that low food production, dependency on external markets and poverty has significantly impacted nutrition status, particularly of little children and women. About 75% households are dependent on spring water without protection of its sources. Both the degrading water sources and contamination lead to water born diseases, especially among children. Assessment result also showed that insufficient water is limiting use of water for required personal hygiene and other uses at household level.

Nathiagali is rich for thick forest reserves in Pakistan, however despite of government’ ban on use of reserve forests for fuel or other uses, our team find that illegal cutting is widespread and the reason behind deforestation is community dependency on forest for fuel, houses construction and protecting themselves from the harsh winter. Communities shared that degrading forest cover is a big risk for natural habitat. Communities also shared that they are observing sharp decline in number of wild species like leopards, monkeys and seasonal birds.

It is vital that government and specially ministry of environment give special attention to Nathiagali and protect this area from degrading natural resources and vanishing bio-diversity. It is so obvious that tourism’ benefits in this area are very limited to local communities. Government should develop this entire area in a true sense with number of available options like eco-tourism, sustainable management of natural resources and linking environment conservation with income generation for poor families.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Pakistani connectors and Ministry of Environment celebrates World Environment Day

Pakistani Connectors from the Environmental Club of International Islamic University, Islamabad celebrated the World Environment Day on June 5th with the Ministry of Environment in Pakistan National Council of Art, Islamabad. Students from 20 schools, colleges and universities participated the event. Federal minister for environment, Mr. Hameedullah Jan Afridi was the chief guest who addressed the audience on challenges being faced by Pakistan due to environmental degradation and climate crisis.

It's a great honor that Environmental Club was given the overall responsibility of organizing this event. Students had number of performances, songs to create awareness on climate change and environmental pollution.

Bravo Environmental Club!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

When climate change force people to break their own homes

Hundreds of families living near the dangerous Hunza river in downstream have no other choice, except to break their own homes...

They are breaking their walls, removing roofs, taking out woods, bricks and other precious parts of their homes, before the artificial lake would burst and destroy each and every thing. They are doing this all just because they are poor and cannot afford to reconstruct home from zero. They want to protect and safe as much as possible these things so they can reuse them when start reconstructing their homes.

This is in continuation of my previous blogs on Hunza crisis where back in January 2010, a massive landslide blocked the Hunza river flow and turn it to a dangerous artificial lake of more than 350 feet depth and 20 km long. The rising river water finally reached the spillway and outflow has increased from 197 cusec to almost 800 in last ten days. Experts say when the outflow will reach 1000 cusec, there would be high risk of lake outburst. With the increase of water outflow from spillway, river width is increasing and villages located near river are coming under water.

There are major glaciers in the Northern Areas of Pakistan.Biafo and Hisper glacier together make the world largest glacier system (more than 100 km) outside the polar region. With increasing temperature, glaciers are melting rapidly and thus increasing risk of lake outburst in Hunza river.

Government is announcing support to victim families while army and relief organizations are busy in relocating families, however, lot to do yet.

Photo: IRIN