As civilized societies, today acknowledge the productive and reproductive contribution of women, and their engagement in various paid and unpaid laboring and reflect on the challenges they face, in Gilgit-Baltistan the contribution of women has not yet been acknowledged and their issues recognized. It is heartbreaking to witness the double exploitation of women by men in the mountainous society.
In Gilgit-Baltistan, women have a significant contribution to the region’s economy, particularly in agriculture, animal husbandry, and handicraft. They undertake intense labor to support the family and contribute to the economy. They do house chores, family care, and toil in the fields, orchards, and pastures; they are responsible for harvesting crops, planting seeds, tending to livestock, making dairy products, and collecting firewood. Moreover, women work in small businesses such as handicrafts, embroidery, and knitting, which generate income for their families and contribute to the region’s economy.
Furthermore, women in Gilgit-Baltistan play a crucial role in preserving the cultural heritage of the region. They pass on traditional skills, crafts, and knowledge to future generations, ensuring that the rich cultural traditions of the area do not fade into insignificance. Despite their significant contributions to the economy and society, women are often undervalued and denied the recognition they deserve.
The rugged terrain of the region amplifies gender disparity in work. According to the Pakistan Social and Living Standards Measurement (PSLM) survey 2019-20, the labor force participation rate for women in Gilgit-Baltistan was only 18%, significantly lower than the rate for men, which was 65%. This disparity is also evident in the education sector where the literacy rate for women in Gilgit-Baltistan is only 31%, compared to 58% for men.
The survey also revealed that the poverty headcount ratio for women-led households in the region was 37.5%, compared to 26.6% for men-led households. These statistics highlight the existing gender disparities and the urgent need for action to promote gender equality in Gilgit Baltistan.
Women struggle not only for their fundamental rights but also against the very landscape they inhabit. Sadly, women are often viewed as weaker members of society, and their contributions are seldom acknowledged. Men, on the other hand, are deemed superior and occupy decision-making and managerial positions in every sphere of life. They exercise control over not only their homes but also the women in their lives as sole martinets.
The patriarchal mindset of men drives power from overarched outdated cultural traditions sanctified by the misinterpretation and manipulation of religion to justify their abusive and oppressive actions. Hadiths and verses from Quran are often twisted to fit their bestial interests; women are expected to submit subserviently to men as Earthly gods. Those who dare to stand up against their abusers are subjected to societal stigma and ostracized as “divorcees,” “characterless,” or “not women enough,” making them vulnerable, with no support or protection from society.
Despite the challenges, women in Gilgit-Baltistan continue to strive in every sphere of life for a better future.
To achieve gender equity, we must take a two-pronged approach: First, we must educate men about patriarchy and how to use their perceived power, and privilege responsibly. Second, we must empower women, educate them about their rights and value in society, and encourage them to stand up for themselves and refuse to be subjected to humiliation, and abusive behavior.
The local government must recognize women’s resilience and support their efforts to achieve gender equality. They must educate men and women alike about the importance of respecting women’s rights and acknowledge their invaluable contributions to society.
Let us not cloak our cruel and oppressive behavior toward women in the guise of ‘culture’ and ‘religion’. Our faith should be a source of compassion and kindness, and not an instrument to justify the abuse and exploitation of weaker segments. We must not allow the rugged terrain of this region to become an additional obstacle to the mobility of women.
In addition to education and empowerment, we must also address the systemic issues that perpetuate gender biases and inequality in Gilgit-Baltistan. There is a need for greater representation of women in decision-making positions, both in the public and private sectors. This would ensure that policies and programs are designed to address the needs and concerns of women.
Concerted efforts should be made to eliminate discriminatory laws and practices that prevent women from realizing their full potential in all spheres of life, and restrict their access to education, healthcare, and employment opportunities. Efforts should also be made to abolish practices that allow child marriage, honor killings, and other forms of violence against women.
Political and civil society organizations can play a crucial role in promoting gender equity and providing women with the necessary resources and support to assert their rights and challenge discriminatory and retrogressive traditions and customs. They can also engage with men, raise awareness about the importance of gender equality, and promote positive masculinity.
Gender equity is not just a women’s issue. It is an issue that affects everyone in society, and it is incumbent upon all of us to work toward a more equitable and just society. Men must be allies, not enemies in this struggle, and they must actively work to dismantle the patriarchal structures that perpetuate gender inequality.
In conclusion, the plight of women in Gilgit-Baltistan is a pressing issue that demands a coordinated and holistic approach and action. Let us recognize the contribution of women to society and accord them the respect and dignity they deserve. We must create a balanced and just society that values all its members equally. Together, we must work to dismantle the patriarchal system and replace it with a women-friendly egalitarian one that recognizes the inherent worth and dignity of every individual, regardless of gender, class, and creed.
We must work towards educating and empowering women, eliminating discriminatory laws and practices, promoting women’s representation in decision-making positions, engaging with men, and creating a society that values and respects women. Only then we can create a world where half of the population can realize their full potential and live a life of dignity and equality.
Rakhshanda Abbas teaches English at APSACS, Gilgit. She graduated from Government College University Lahore in social sciences.