Friday, 19th January 2018

High in Pakistan's mountains, women break taboos


ISLAMABAD [AFP]: A group of young girls sit on a carpeted floor listening as their teacher writes on a whiteboard, preparing his students for the rigours of climbing some of the world’s highest peaks.

This is Shimshal Mountaineering School, tucked away in a remote village in the breathtaking mountains of Pakistan’s far north, close to the border with China.

While most of Pakistan’s overwhelmingly patriarchal society largely relegates women to domestic roles, in the northern Hunza valley, a more liberal attitude has long prevailed.

Now the women of the region are breaking more taboos and training for jobs traditionally done by men, including as carpenters and climbing guides on the Himalayan peaks.

“You have to be careful, check your equipment and the rope, any slight damage can result in death,” Niamat Karim, the climbing instructor warns the students.

Karim is giving last-minute advice to the eight young women who are about to embark on a practical demonstrations of climbing class.

They are the first batch of women to train as high altitude guides at the Shimshal Mountaineering School, set up in 2009 with support of Italian climber Simone Moro.

The women have spent the last four years learning ice and rock climbing techniques, rescue skills and tourism management.

At 3,100 metres above sea level, Shimshal is the highest settlement in the Hunza valley, connected to the rest of the world by a rough jeep-only road just 11 years ago.

The narrow, unpaved road twists through high mountains, over wooden bridges and dangerous turns with the constant risk of landslides to reach the small village of 250 households.

There is no running water and electricity is available only through solar panels the locals buy from China, but despite the isolation, the literacy rate in the village is 98 per cent — around twice the Pakistani national average.

It has produced some world famous climbers including Samina Baig, the first Pakistani woman to scale Mount Everest.

The people of Shimshal depend on tourism for their income and the village has produced an average of one mountaineer in every household.

The eight women training as guides have scaled four local peaks, including Minglik Sar and Julio Sar, both over 6,000 metres.

For aspiring mountaineer Takht Bika, 23, the school is a “dream come true”.

“My uncle and brother are mountaineers and I always used to wait for their return whenever they went for a summit”, Bika told AFP.

“I used to play with their climbing gear, they were my childhood toys — I never had a doll.”

For Duor Begum, mountaineering is a family tradition — and a way of honouring her husband, killed while climbing in the Hunza Valley.

“I have two kids to look after and I don’t have a proper means of income,” she said.

Begum joined the mountaineering school with the aim of continuing the legacy of her late husband and to make a living.

“I am taking all the risks for the future of my children, to give them good education so that they can have a better future”, she said.

But while the women are challenging tradition by training as guides, there is still a long way to go to change attitudes, and so far Begum has not been able to turn professional.

“I know its difficult and it will take a long time to make it a profession for females but my kids are my hope”, she said.

Lower down in the valley, away from the snowy peaks, Bibi Gulshan, another mother-of-two whose late husband died while fighting in the army has a similar tale of battling to change minds.

She trained as a carpenter under the Women Social Enterprise (WSE), a project set up in the area by the Aga Khan Development Network to provide income opportunities for poor families and advocate women’s empowerment at the same time.

Set up in 2003, the WSE now employs over 110 women, between 19 and 35 years of age.

“I want to give the best education to my kids so that they don’t feel the absence of their father,” Gulshan told AFP.

“I started my job just 10 days after my husband was martyred, my friends mocked me saying instead of mourning my husband I had started the job of a men but I had no choice — I had to support my kids.”

With the 8,000 rupees ($80) a month she earns in the carpentry workshop, Gulshan pays for her children to go through school, and she has also used her skills to build and furnish a new house for her family.

As well as giving poor and marginalised women a chance to earn a living, the WSE project, funded by the Norwegian embassy, also aims to modernise local skills.

Project head Safiullah Baig said traditionally, male carpenters worked to a mental plan of houses they were building — a somewhat unscientific approach.

“These girls are using scientific knowledge at every step right from mapping and design and their work is more feasible and sustainable,” Baig said.

SGAFP launches gem projects in Chitral and Gilgit



CHITRAL: Rupani Foundation [RF] under USAID's small Grants and Ambassador's Fund Program [SGAFP] launched a two years (2013-2014) technology transfer and skill development in gem sector project in Chitral district of Khyber - Pakhtunkhwa and Gilgit-Baltistan.

The objective of the project was to strengthen gem sector by establishing training cum production centers to train 20 Master Trainers each in Chitral and Hunza under the supervision of international  and national trainers.

Rupani Foundation has already trained 20 Master Trainers at Gharam Chashma Center in March 2014, said a senior official at RF office Gilgit.

Of 20 Master Trainers, 10 identified as best Master Trainers started a phased wise schedule of training at Gharam Chashma Chitral Center, he added.

Till end of July, 2014, about 50 trainees have received training. They are mostly from villages of Gharam Chashma Union Council.  Another batch of 40 trainees is getting training from local Master Trainers. This batch is expected to start their own small and medium gems sector business - both individually or in groups – after completing their advanced gemstone cutting, polishing and beads making training.

To earn their livelihood, the trainees can work anywhere in Pakistan, which will be an act of strengthening gem sector as they are able to add value to rough gemstone.

Rupani Foundation's Gemstone cutting, polishing and beads making training cum production Center situated at Gharam Chashma, Chitral is producing local gemstones, which are being linked with local, regional and national market for sales.

Peshawar being hub of gemstone trading , both RF Master Trainers and trainees can market their products through regional and national market  and will be underpinning  rural economy, thus bring foreign exchange to local economy.

It is observed that most of the rough gemstone exported from Pakistan are re-imported as polished gemstone with value manifolds, which causes great loss to the exchequer.

Rupani Foundation encourages its skilled workforce to produce value added and finished quality products and then to target it to potential market for exports as well as to fulfill local and national market demand of polished natural gems.

The USAID's Small Grants & Ambassador's Fund Program will enable Rupani Foundation to produce 20 Master Trainers and 100 workforce who will join the gem sector with completion of two years project in Chitral and Gilgit-Baltistan and to generate their livelihood by producing quality products with different cuts and shapes as per market trends and demand.   RF through its marketing department will develop market linkages to bring steady income by linking these 100 workforce in Chitral with local, regional and national buyers and middlemen.

Imran's move towards PM House prompted by a message: Javed Hashmi

Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) president Javed Hashmi. — Photo by AFP

Monitoring Desk

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) president Javed Hashmi on Sunday addressed a press conference and called on the PTI chief Imran Khan to leave Parliament House.

Hashmi clarified the position on his differences with the party chief saying: “Imran Khan had assured the party of not moving ahead towards the Prime Minister House...until Shaikh Raheed brought a message with someone".

Imran then said that the situation required us to move forward, to which “I had differences”, Hashmi said.

He also said that the party was against the decision of moving towards the PM House.

Hashmi said he would rejoin his leader as soon as Imran would get the protesters out of Parliament House.

Hashmi has unhappy over his party’s decision to join hands with PAT because he feared it could lead to a violent situation.

Hashmi is of the view that the army should not be dragged in politics no matter who had asked it to become a facilitator.Dawn

What is special in Gilgit – Baltistan’s Eid



GILGIT: The 10 years old Sabaina looks at the mirror as she puts on bangles and jewellery that she has purchased for Eid.

The preparation for the Eid in terms of dresses across Gilgit – Baltistan [G-B] isn’t much different as compared to other cities of Pakistan. Shopping is at its peak during the last week before Eid particularly at ‘Chand raat’ as men, women flock to bazaars and do the final touches of the shopping. The dresses and other items are mostly what brought from Lahore, Karachi and Rawalpindi as is the case with rest of the country.

Women and girls wear special dresses and jewellery depending on their financial position on the day. The same goes with men who make the traditional Pakistani dress ‘shalwar Kameez’ on the day.

The Eid is however different when it comes to preparation of food.

Traditional 'Shirek'

While the meat of the slaughtered animals is there with every dish prepared, there are some other items that are specific to this region. This includes Shireks, a traditional bread that has ingredients of flour, egg, yogurt, milk, dry apricot and butter. “We make shirks a day earlier to serve guests as well as families members,” says Shaista, a housewife in Gilgit.

A shirek can be used up to a week as dry food especially in breakfast.

“This requires a lot of hard work initially but once done it helps you sit back tension-free at least for a week if you have it in good quality and in sufficient quantity” she told Outpost.

Shaista has prepared 40 shirks this time around and is sure it will be sufficient for a week for his five-member family.

This traditional bread is made by families living even in valleys but with different names and composition of ingredients depending their financial positions. The quality is better among families living in cities like Gilgit and Skardu while those living in villages for obvious reasons of better facilities and easy access to markets.

“The meat is there all the time in this day but what is unique and loved is this,” says Shaista as she winds up the cooking.


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