Kashmiri women can take their future into their own hands - with your help

With the help of WFP, Kashmiri women are taking their lives into their own hands and building a future from the ruins of the October earthquake. Caroline Chaumont tells us of their determination to piece their broken lives back together.

Before last October's earthquake, women in Pakistan-administered Kashmir had found some independence through WFP's
Food for Work

projects. The quake destroyed what the women had built up; but on a day trip to the village of Dana, Caroline Chaumont discovered that many of the women were on the road to recovery.

In the last three months, I have heard many stories of how lives have been destroyed by the earthquake.

As I prepared for a day trip to meet women in the earthquake-affected area, I expected them to tell me some harrowing stories.

Copyright: WFP 2006/Caroline Chaumont
Pervaza Bibi with the ruins of her poultry farm in the background

What I found instead, was enormously inspiring. The Kashmiri women I met were organised into community associations through which they undertook projects which earned them WFP food stamps.

They were vocal and eager to rebuild their lives.

But despite their efforts, what they really need is a helping hand from the international community to get them off to a good start.

A two-year WFP recovery plan to help Kashmiris rebuild their lives has so far only received three percent of its required budget and needs more donor contributions to reach its target.

Seeing everything fall apart

Pervaza Bibi is one example of the determination of Kashmiri women. More than four years of her hard work was torn down in seconds when, on 8 October 2005, the 7.6 magnitude earthquake struck Pakistan and parts of India.

Pervaza’s poultry farm and her shop were destroyed. Before the quake she had more than 1000 chickens but just 100 survived – only to die a few weeks later when the Himalayan winter settled in.

She had managed to build up these assets with WFP’s “Creating assets for rural women” programme, which trained and gave food stamps to women who undertook projects such as road clearance.

Kashimiri women are more vocal and more out-going than other women in Pakistan and they have shown great progress in community leadership and participation

Khalida Malik, programme manager for WFP women’s programmes

Pervaza Bibi borrowed money from a central fund created by the women and learned how to rear poultry.

Within a few years her business was flourishing and the mother of six was able to generate up to 40 percent of her household income - until the earthquake struck.

Pervaza is one of many women in Kashmir to benefit from WFP efforts to help them hone their skills and actively shape their lives and that of their communities.

Copyright: WFP 2006/Caroline Chaumont

Educating future generations of women is a priority

Increased leadership and participation

“Kashimiri women are more vocal and more out-going than other women in Pakistan and they have shown great progress in community leadership and participation,” says Khalida Malik, programme manager for WFP women’s programmes and gender issues.

In the earthquake area, WFP will take advantage of this success to implement its two-year recovery plan which envisages helping food insecure households through food for training and asset-creation programmes.

Women will have the opportunity to acquire marketable skills in composting, fruit and nut tree production, animal welfare and block-making for the construction of schools and houses.

Self-confident

Without the required funding, women such as Pervaza and Yasmine, who lives not far from Pervaza, will have less opportunities.

Yasmine, showed me a newly built path that the women in her village had built.

“With the community organisation, we were able to build this path, it is much easier to reach the main road and for children to go to school,” she explains

Before the creation of the community association, women had very few chances to get together.

By meeting twice a month to discuss problems and priorities for the village, the women have become more self-confident.

“Decisions used to be made by men but now we can also make them,” explains one woman. “We are standing on our two feet.”