GILGIT: When Noor-ul-Ain started her career in the early 80s, the male dominant society of Gilgit – Baltistan [G-B] had very little to offer to the working women.
However three decades later, the situation is quite different. This change owes much to women like Ain, who faced all the odds to make a mark in the society.
“I think I am among those few lucky persons who got support instead of opposition during my early days in the carrier,” says Ain as she recalls her first job with Aga Khan Rural Support Development or AKRSP as popularly known, an organization of Aga Khan Foundation. As social organizer, she remained associated with the organization from 1984 till 2006.
A native of G-B’s Nomal valley, Ain currently heads Pakistan Red Crescent Society [PRCS] in G-B. She took up the job in July 2013 and thus became the first woman in the region to head the organization that is still reeling from financial constrains.
“In AKRSP, my job was to focus on women to raise their living standards through income generating activities,” says Ain, who lives in Gilgit. Her husband is a retired engineer from Yaseen valley of Ghizer district. The family is settled in Gilgit, the capital of G-B.
Ain is mother of three sons and a daughter – all are well educated. Her daughter is a doctor and works in a hospital associated with Aga Khan Foundation.
The soft spoken Ain herself is an educated woman. She did masters in Sociology while she was an employee of AKRSP. It was when she did her masters in Peace and Conflict from England’s Sunderland University in 2004. She was financially supported by AKRSP for her education abroad.
According to a survey compiled by the Thomson Reuters Foundation in 2011, Pakistan is ranked third on the basis of “cultural, tribal and religious practices harmful to women. Other countries that made the top five were Afghanistan, which took the top slot, The Democratic Republic of Congo, India and Somalia.
“Pakistan is ranked third on the basis of “cultural, tribal and religious practices harmful to women. Other countries that made the top five were Afghanistan, which took the top slot, The Democratic Republic of Congo, India and Somalia.”
“The conditions for working women are quite better now compared to when I started my journey. And I must give credit to Public School and College Jutial Gilgit for this,” she said of Public School and College Jutial which was built in back 1980s. It introduced quality education in the region as the institution was run and managed by the arm. According to the school management, more than 75 percent of G-B employees are those who got their education from it.
Ain has served as advisor education and women development in the G-B government for three year from 2006 – 2009 during Musharraf’s government. She made into the then G-B legislative council through special seats created for women.
For an ordinary woman of Gilgit, the job of an ‘advisor education’ would be too difficult to manage. But that wasn’t the case with Ain as she had already got necessary training during her 12 years long association with AKRSP.
In her stint as advisor, a number of girls schools in the remote valleys were upgraded to colleges. Similarly, the establishment of Directorate of Women in Gilgit was a feather in her cap. But Ain regrets lack of progress in matters of Directorate of Women in the years that followed.
“We did work hard to establish the directorate then,” recalls Ain.
“But those replaced us in the successive governments extended a cold shoulder to the affairs of the directorate,” she regrets as she thinks the hard work she put in just landed in waste.
Almost a similar situation awaited Ain when she joined PRCS, replacing a male predecessor. The organization was facing a financial crunch leading to closures of offices in Baltistan and Hunza-Nagar valley.
“I believe what impeded the progress of the PRCS is lack of support from authorities,” says Ain as she sits back in her office talking to Outpost.
“Imagine our organization doesn’t have its building in G-B. The place where we work is a rented building. But I have taken it as a challenge and I am sure we will achieve our goals.”
In 2012, the then president Asif Zardari wrote a letter to then chief minister G-B Mehdi Shah and Azad Kashmir [AJK] government to allot piece of land for PRCS in their respective areas. Complying orders, AJK government did that but G-B didn’t.
Ain holds Mehdi Shah government responsible for the mess up that ruined the future of poor people associated with it.
Through the temperature in Gilgit has dropped five degrees below freezing point in December and the issues in PRCS crossed upper limit, Ain is ready to take on the challenges.