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from Pir Panjal to FATA – what people (also) worry about in areas of conflict

We have been working close to places in Pakistan where a lot of attention was focused towards from the media recently, mostly without clearing the picture but often rather muddying it with everyone having a say in things noone really knows how to interprete. I would like to briefly point out some observations from there that may be useful to understand to some measure what troubles the people there – especially those issues hardly ever talked about because of their lack of big-news-value.

One is in Pakistani Administered Kashmir, where we ran a Skills Training Centre (2007 – 2010) some 10km from where the recent border dispute happened between Pakistani and Indian soldiers that sparked some outrage on both sides and has gained attention abroad as well. The other is somewhere between Peshawar and Kohat in the environs of the Shamshattoo Refugee camp, ca. 15 km from the FATA, where we currently run an ambulance (2011 – ). The graphs and observations I present here are really just to be understood as an observation. They shouldn’t be interpreted straight away as representative for a wider area, nor for larger segments of the population. But both institutions are well known in a radius of 20 – 50 km around their location and have made one or the other impact there and gave a chance of understanding issues the respective population faces.

This is not official reporting – all such can be obtained by directly contacting me or learning German and consulting our website http://www.direkthilfe.at. I rather want to learn from my work and try to bring small outcomes into a larger perspectives as far as that is permissible.

Also, it is a good chance to see how stark differences between different rural areas within Pakistan can be.

(the images can be viewed in full size when clicked)

Women Skills Training Centre Dhulli
This project has been finalised as such and been since passed on into the hands of local women. The complete report can be obtained from our site (PDF) and what I point out here are just excerpts from this Evaluation. All sources can be found in the original report and won’t be replicated here.

The area is very close to a mute war (see pictures below), but apart from the fact that people know where training camps of Mujahedin are and a constant army presence this plays no role here. Many people however have family on the Indian side as well. And few here will talk bad about India, while many do about Pakistan, simply because the ignorance of the Pakistani side affects them, the aggresion of the Indian side does not …


The Mosque for farmers of summer pastures and soldiers who are allowed to retreat from Forward Positions for a chai – the area here is already riddled with trenches, in the back of where I stand one can see down to Haji Pir Pass. (picture taken in 2007)


At the main gate of the major army barracks of the area. (picture taken in 2006)

During 3 years, 200 women from the area were trained in Handicrafts and encouraged to establish their own workshops. After the closure of the training Centre, small scale training Centres were established in different villages, where former trainees are carrying on the initiative. The main aim was to provide a training facility for women for skills they could eventually use to earn money themselves. At the end of the project we interviewed 113 of the students to determine the success of the project and the issues they faced in becoming economically independent or if that was still their wish.

What I wanted to find out with the Evaluation I wrote then:

The perspectives such a Training Centre poses for women in AJK were evaluated on two grounds: economical and societal. In the end both can only be understood in an interrelation:

The defensive viewpoint states, that economic perspectives for women are only possible within the societal framework.

The offensive viewpoint acknowledges, that economic success will result in a loosening of the societal restrictions for women.

… now how does that work in rural Kashmir?


Figure 1: Household Income in the area. The women hailed from 2 different UC, of which one is more located in the valley (Nar Sher Ali Khan) while the other has many hamlets in remote locations. The data is from official government records.

As Figure 1 suggests one can see a gradient in income due to location – residencies of students from Swange reach all the way to the border and it took some students up to 90 min. each day to reach the centre. Most people here have a job in the local market, as a trader or skilled labour or are subsistence farmers. Many also have family members all over Pakistan and the world who contribute to their family back home.

The same gradient is obvious from education (Figure 2). The Centre aimed at favoring women from poorer backgrounds.


Figure 2: Girls education in Union Councils Nar Sher Ali Khan and Swange (Government Data), compared to the students from the WSTC.

62% of the women wanted to get a job – the others did not aim for that either because of lack of interest (they wanted to stay at home) or because they felt there was no use in aiming for this wish anyway. The most favored professions were those, that are most realistic for a woman in the area (Tailor and Teacher > 30%, Medical Worker ca. 15 %). The salary they hoped for was often very optmistic (see Figure 3) – though most women did realize this and many were dismayed by the prospects. Others vowed to do everything possible to get the education and job they so hoped for in the end.


Figure 3: The desired salary women hoped for in their future. The red line denotes the average for skilled females in Pakistan. A number of women did not answer this question.


Figure 4: Income generated by the women who attended the training.

In the end 70% managed to turn their skills into commercial benefit, 30% only contributed with their handicrafts to needs in their own family or supported others without renumeration. Figure 4 shows how much women earned. From Figure 5 it becomes obvious, that women with a better school ecucation had advantages in then turning their skills into money. However the other way around, there were a number of cases of women who had stopped going to school earlier (mostly because they saw no perspective in getting a job anyway) but the regained confience from earning money with their handicrafts skills prompted them to persue schooling. The problem that family (especially fathers or brothers) would not allow women to attend school or any kind of training of course exists in the area. But the much more prevalent reason for dropping out of school or not getting any education is the lack of hope to get a proper job in future and that education will not help in that regard. Looking at the overall Pakistani statistics they are unfortunately not wrong in their assumption. For many the approach of getting skills and confidence in ones capabilities first and then persue formal education has proven to be a viable solution. As long as the job market won’t be open equally to both sexes, especially in rural areas, a parallel skills training may thus be a good approach. More than 70% of the women aslo stated that their training has gained them more respect within the family, more than 60% said that respect also increased among the wider village community. For 90% the training increased their confidence and there were a number of cases where women convinced their comunities to support them in running tailor workshops in the end.


Figure 5: The benefit of education.

Ambulance in the environs of Shamshattoo Camp (UC Urmar Bela)

This project is still under way, and a final report comparable to the one for above mentioned project will only be out by 2014. The data discussed here is taken from surveys taken before and during the project period. I just want to point out what some pertinent issues are and am not complaining that this or that doesn’t work. It’s just to point some attention at issues that are far too little appreciated because of their lack of sexiness when it comes to churning out a news story. It should also show however, that in an area that by many is regarded as hopelessly backward, conservative and dangerous working with e.g. women and giving them a voice is not of the impossible. We have recorded a number of interviews with women here who have something to say – and they are allowed to say it, not because we come with progressive values but because they are part of the community and as such are listened to.

It is also of course to people, who constatntly ask me if it isn’t far to dangerous for me to go there. That is hardly on my mind. Not because I am naive or crazy but because I see no point in constanly talking about the possible, not conceived danger when there are so many other dangers (bandworms for example, or stupidity) around that I can actually think about and have data for that I can handle.

People in the area are quite poor, wages of men who mostly work in brick kilns are 3000 PKR/month maximum. Many people live as bonded labor to the brick kiln owners since they are forced into debt. They can move to another brick kiln when the respective owner buys them free. Organ trade for money is happening in many cases.

Literacy rate in the immediate area is 17% (in Kashmir it was well above 80%) and more than 80% of the children in the area are malnourished, 70% to a severe degree. Families here are rather large, and women often get their last (9th or 10th living) child before they turn 30. The focus of the ambulance was early on to be decided on women and children, however generally it is an open facility for all people in the area.

Many inhabitants here are Afghan, who have lived in the area since they fled Afghanistan during the 70s and 80s (see Figure 2).

Figures 1 and 2 look at patient numbers. Interesting here to note is the drop in spring 2012. For economical reasons and after holding a jirga we raised fees from 20 PKR to 50 PKR. This has barred many people from attending and shows in what economical range people have to cope here.

While the war is quite close here, the most pressing issues are of a different kind – and that is not speaking only from numbers but from being there, listening to people over lunch and seeing what decisions we need to make.

There has not been a local government for 10 years, elections have always been postponed and deemed unimportant – and this area is no exception for Pakistan. This means of course for the area, that noone really is and feels responsible. While Peshawar or cities like Nowshera are an altogether different case, here people live in a limbo. While even though Hezb-i-Islami (Hekmatyar) has quite some influence in the area, people are generally far to poor to care for militancy, they also have no government to turn to.

Basic necessities like electricity or drinking water are far from certain – and I am not talking about load shedding. There are simply no lines around. We had to invest into our own electricity line to get more energy our way than to just light a bulb. This has direct consequences for water – no electricity means no water to be pumped regaularly from a convenient depth. Hence often water here is poluted with mud. Hand pumps are installed where communities can afford it. These issues of course accumulate in hygiene and health issues that are of a much higher prioity here than shrapnel wounds or missing limbs.

Only then does security come in – all our medical staff has to come from Peshawar and not only since the recent attacks is working in such environments where you are more exposed and without guard than in a city hospital not very attractive. Staff changes are hence frequent, since we spice up the position with an assured position in Peshawar at a later point. Generally the health sector is being extremely corrupted by international organisations – they pay exorbitant wages draining good staff from government institutions causing uncertainty and a gradient between institutions that makes hardly any sense. We pay local rates and hence will always be subject to such uncertainties.


Figure 1: Patient Numbers dropped when treatment fees were raised from 20PKR to 50 PKR.


Figure 2: Ethnicity data was not recorded at a later stage. However one can see that both ethnicities attend – that is not the case for every ambulance in the area, at some Pakistani are turned down (mostly international institutions), at other Afghans (mostly national hospitals)


Figure 3: Percentage of malnourished patients has dropped mainly because nutrition package stocks are depleted and our fees are keeping the most afected away. That is an issue we will tackle over the next year. However many children and women have also been relased succesfully from the program.

The patient data only give a very small insight in how work proceeds. All kinds of vaccinations are carried out in the ambulance for children and women receive education as well as treatment in regard to child bearing and rearing.

Hygiene Training is carried out in schools around the ambulance regularly and from responses from fathers one can see that a change in behavious of young kids especially can take effect at home.


Figure 4: Breast feeding Courses are offered for women where they are instructed about nutrition in general and have a chance to breast feed at the ambulance. Family Planning includes treatment and information. All a bit a difficult terrain but so far accepted in the communities.

About Jakob Steiner

... lived, worked and studied in Australia, Europe and Asia.


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January 2013


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