When thick grey clouds hovered over Karim Bux Jakhrani village in Kashmore on Monday, the women living there let out wails of despair as they watched the sky with wide eyes. The men, on the other hand, hardly even looked up.
Those who fall for gender stereotypes would be quick to attribute this difference to men being ‘inherently’ more valiant and inexpressive. But the reality is that after three consecutive years of flooding, it was the women who bore the brunt of the calamity and they may have more to lose than men if tragedy strikes again.
Karim Bux Jakhrani village, which is 15 kilometres from Kandhkot city, was one of the areas affected by the downpour in Sindh last year. There are around 200 houses in the village, which around 250 children and more than 200 women call home.
After disaster struck, the men were mired in debt as houses were damaged and crops were swept away. Their solution? Get women to double their efforts on agricultural fields and have more children so that there would be more hands on deck.
“Our lives now just revolve around reducing the debts that we have accumulated,” said Naziran, a 40-year-old woman who lives in the village. Her husband is also married to another woman with whom he has 10 children. Like the other men of his village, he has more than one wife so that he may have more children to help him on the fields. “Polygamy is a custom here. No one objects because in a male-dominated society, a woman has no right to voice dissent.” When disaster struck, it was she who pacified wailing children and made sure they were well-fed while her husband ventured off on his own.
Moorzadi, another resident of the village, started stitching clothes to pitch in and help support her family. It takes her 20 days to finish a kurta which fetches Rs400. “There’s no other way for me to earn money. I get a pittance, but something is better than nothing as I have to feed my grandchildren,” she said. “Women place the Holy Quran over their heads when it rains. We can’t afford more damage. We can’t tolerate the pain of relocating and the cries of children.”
The other women living in the village have similar stories to share. The women claim that they toil to help their husbands but the men don’t reciprocate. “We aren’t taken to hospitals when we have fever, headaches and other symptoms. The privilege of visiting a hospital is only reserved for emergencies,” said Naziran.
Pregnant women have to tolerate the pain of childbirth and risk infection as there is no maternity home in the area to assist delivery and the husbands don’t bother taking the wives to far-off hospitals. After the floods destroyed everything, women even had to wait until night to relieve themselves as there were no washrooms. It was only when a team from Research and Development Foundation with the collaboration of Oxfam helped them rebuild the village that things started getting better.
Naziran added that despite the contributions women make, they can still be killed over suspicions of karo kari. “We just can’t talk to other men. Even if there’s an emergency and the men of the house are away, we can’t ask other males for help. Another villager, Ali Hasan, confirmed the existence of these harsh rules. “We won’t tolerate women who have relationships with other men outside the house.”
Published in The Express Tribune, March 1st, 2013.