Pak­istani mar­ket where women seek jus­tice

A women-only mar­ket

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

A nar­row path winds through Kash­mir’s Val­ley of Pearls to­wards 13 tin-roofed shops hid­den in a rick­ety row, a women-only mar­ket that dou­bles as a space for those seek­ing help against the vi­o­lence of Pak­istan’s patriarchy.

The mar­ket, in a small vil­lage out­side the main city of Rawalakot in a con­ser­va­tive cor­ner of Pak­istani-held Kash­mir, be­gan sim­ply as a place run by women for women. There they could buy and sell sewing sup­plies, visit cloth­ing bou­tiques or train as beau­ti­cians-a wel­come out­let for many strug­gling with the re­straints on women in the deeply tra­di­tional Mus­lim area.

So­cial worker Nus­rat Yousuf, who works with victims of do­mes­tic vi­o­lence through the non­govern­men­tal or­ga­ni­za­tion (NGO) she heads, helped per­suade a gen­er­ous land­lord to pro­vide the land to set up the mar­ket in 2011.

Women in the area, she says, are for­bid­den by their fam­i­lies to work in the main mar­kets in the area’s towns and cities. “They be­come frus­trated when they can’t get jobs and spend their lives at home,” the 48-year-old widow tells AFP.

The mar­ket, from which men were at first banned, pro­vided a way around con­ser­va­tive be­liefs, mak­ing women “eco­nom­i­cally strong”. Yousuf de­scribes it as a place “where they can visit and freely dis­cuss all their is­sues-such as child­birth, men­stru­a­tion, cook­ing, and do­mes­tic is­sues, and we find so­lu­tions”.

From talk­ing to fight­ing

That in­creas­ingly in­cludes how to help di­vorced women and victims of do­mes­tic vi­o­lence lodge com­plaints with po­lice and fight their cases in the courts. Women have bat­tled for their rights for decades in Pak­istan. Hun­dreds are mur­dered each year-usu­ally by male rel­a­tives-in so-called “honor killings” and dis­fig­ur­ing acid at­tacks are still com­mon. Rights groups and politi­cians have for years called for tougher laws to tackle per­pe­tra­tors of vi­o­lence against women in Pak­istan.

“Po­lice were not ar­rest­ing an in­flu­en­tial man who cut off the nose of his wife three months ago,” she says, de­scrib­ing just one of the cases she has han­dled from her of­fice in the mar­ket. “She ap­proached us, and our NGO staged a protest against po­lice,” Yousuf ex­plains, adding that she then met with po­lice of­fi­cials and lodged a com­plaint. “Now the cul­prit is in po­lice cus­tody. We have hired a fe­male lawyer to fight the case.” she says.

Razia Bibi, a 35-year-old mother of two whose hus­band di­vorced her five months ago, de­scribed how Yousuf is help­ing her nav­i­gate the courts to seek al­imony from her chil­dren’s fa­ther. “I am hope­ful that the ver­dict will be in my fa­vor,” she says. Yousuf says her NGO, the Pearl Ru­ral Sup­port Pro­gram, which brings

to­gether women’s or­ga­ni­za­tions in seven lo­cal vil­lages, is also lob­by­ing the govern­ment for a sep­a­rate desk for women at ev­ery po­lice sta­tion, where they can speak to a fe­male of­fi­cer “more com­fort­ably”. Yousuf says that, orig­i­nally, men were banned from en­ter­ing the mar­ket. Now they can en­ter-but only in the com­pany of a woman. The mar­ket has made life eas­ier, says cus­tomer Aye­sha Bibi. “We had to travel to the main mar­kets for such things in the past, and we needed the com­pany of a male fam­ily mem­ber to go there,” she ex­plains.

It is also pro­vid­ing eco­nomic op­por­tu­nity for those such as com­puter grad­u­ate Sara Rasheed, whose fam­ily re­fused her per­mis­sion to work in any area dom­i­nated by men. She con­vinced them to al­low her to open a beauty par­lour and a gar­ment shop in the mar­ket, she says. “I am earn­ing a good in­come and sav­ing lots of money for my fu­ture and fam­ily,” she adds proudly.

Khur­shid Begum, a 42-year-old widow and mother of four, opened a tai­lor’s shop and teaches sewing to young girls there. “My busi­ness has flour­ished... My in­come has in­creased,” she says. “We are try­ing to make more and more women skill­ful in fu­ture,” Yousuf says. “I am very happy that I am achiev­ing my goal.”


RAWALAKOT, Pak­istan: In this pho­to­graph taken on Novem­ber 21, 2016, Pak­istani Kash­miri women wait out­side the of­fice of so­cial worker Nus­rat Yousuf to dis­cuss their so­cial is­sues with her in the women’s mar­ket on the out­skirts of the town of Rawalakot, in Pak­istani-ad­min­is­tered Kash­mir.


RAWALAKOT, Pak­istan: In this pho­to­graph taken on Novem­ber 21, 2016, Pak­istani Kash­miri girls stitch­ing cloth dur­ing their class in the women’s mar­ket on the out­skirts of the town of Rawalakot, in Pak­istani-ad­min­is­tered Kash­mir.

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