Tourism closure hits Pakistan's mountain communities

Women leaders demand financial support to home-based workers

News Desk May 17, 2020

Closure of tourism in the scenic valleys of Gilgit and Baltistan has severely affected the earnings of mountains communities particularly women engaged in the handicraft sector, said Gilgit-Baltistan Legislative Assembly Member Rani Atiqa Ghazanfar.

She was speaking at a virtual seminar on ‘Women’s vulnerabilities in the Covid-19 crisis’.

Speakers at the online seminar urged the government to take urgent steps to financially support and facilitate the women in small businesses, trades, and those who are home-based workers such as craftswomen, home-chefs, and tailors.

Before the Covid-19 crisis, they were self-supportive and financially over the poverty line. So they don’t fall in the destitute women criteria being served by the Ehssaas Programme said the speakers at Development Communications Network (Devcom-Pakistan) and DTN virtual seminar on Saturday.

The panel included besides Rani Atiqa, former Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa former MPA and De Laas Gul Welfare Programme CEO Meraj Hamayun Khan, Founder Islamabad Women Chamber of Commerce and Industry (IWCCI) Samina Fazil, former president K-P Women Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KPWCCI) Nasira Laghmani, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf Punjab MPA Shamim Aftab, senior journalist Tazeen Akhtar, Prof Dr AW Baloch, and president Islamabad Rotary Club Raja Muhammad Shabbir. Devcom-Pakistan and DTN Director Munir Ahmed moderated the seminar.

Rani Atiqa Ghazanfar said the women of mountain women are more vulnerable to the current crisis. Closure of tourism has affected the earnings of households in the mountainous regions.

Moreover, she said there is no adequate healthcare support from the federal government to test the natives coming back to their homes.

Meraj Humayun Khan said almost three months have past and the country has no clear policy to combat the challenge of Covid-19 crisis.

The Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province has no data of the daily wagers and the home-based women workers, she said. The government should take civil society organisations of repute and integrity on board with the district management to reach the marginalized women.

Nasira Laghmani said the KPWCCI has the data of most of the women in business, trade, and homework. Similarly, the IWCCI and other branches of the women chambers of commerce could also facilitate the government in reaching out to the needy women in business and trade.

She said the KP government is still to come up with any framework of action on the ground.

Samina Fazil said the IWCCI has reached out to Deputy Commissioner to Prime Minister to put up the case of women whose small businesses are shut down. Most of them are independent, single bread-earners for the families. Many are out of cash to pay the rent of their houses, shops and fees of their children. It seems both sides of the power corridors are playing politics on the crisis. Lockdown or no lockdown, women shall be the priority of the government.

MPA Shamim Aftab mentioned that PTI workers are supporting the district management and government organisations to reach out the vulnerable communities. The volunteers are also collecting data of the needy and deserving people that are not served in the first phase of aid under the Ehsaas programme.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 17th, 2020.