Pakistan is a country with a rich cultural heritage and social values. The tribal areas in Pakistan have played an important role in shaping the history, culture and values of the country. However, many of the tribal or indigenous areas have faced political, social, cultural, and racial marginalization over the years. Especially the tribal women, who have faced, and are still facing, major challenges such as accessing basic necessities like education, healthcare, and economic opportunities. Most of the time the main reason behind this deprivation is cultural restraints. Tribal institutions such as the Jirga (council of male tribal elders), Rewaj (the customary law), Swara (giving away women, especially minors to settle disputes), and Ghaq (forcibly claiming the right to a woman in marriage), directly affect the provision of basic rights of tribal women. Many times, these institutions are purposefully abused to further deprive the women, command or restrict their lives, and keep them dependent.
In today’s world and economy, development and prosperity can be achieved if everyone contributes to the economy, in whichever way possible, regardless of their gender. In Pakistan, however, the workforce is essentially male-dominated, and women do not join in for various reasons such as cultural restraints, safety issues, etc. Looking at the recent Global Gender Gap Report, released by the World Economic Forum in 2022, Pakistan ranked 145 out of 146 countries, making it the second worst country in terms of gender gap. Hence, there is a major lack of female working force in most areas of economic development in the country, and the situation is far worse in rural or tribal areas of the country.
While talking about the inclusion of women in economic development and their participation in the economy, Bangladesh’s progress cannot be overlooked. Under the leadership of Sheikh Hasina and her eminent policies, nongovernmental organizations like the Grameen Bank and BRAC, worked along with the government to empower women in the country. They worked to promote the education of girls and to ensure female participation in the economy. They financially supported women to run their businesses by providing them with loans, and microfinancing at the grass root level. Therefore, we too need to create opportunities for women in our country, while keeping in mind the cultural and social values of our society.
If we talk about tribal women, and why it is so important to include them in the economy; there are several reasons. Firstly, it will help to reduce poverty in tribal areas and promote economic growth, it will also decrease the illiteracy rate, and create more opportunities. Secondly, it will promote gender equity and help reduce the increased dependency on tribal women. Tribal women face many barriers to economic participation, therefore, their inclusion can break these barriers and encourage others to do the same. Finally, this will lead to social cohesion and stability in the tribal areas, while reducing the risk of conflicts.
To achieve this inclusion, firstly, we need to create awareness about the importance of female participation in the economy, both with the tribal leaders and the women. We also need to provide them with access to education, skill learning, and training. Secondly, we need to provide them with financial assistance, as the tribal women are highly dependent on the men in their families, they lack access to credit or other financial resources, which further limits their ability to start businesses. Through guidance we can help them hone their talents and skills and teach them how to monetize them, also with loans and financial guidance and assistance we can help them build businesses.
Many initiatives have been taken by the government to empower women in rural and tribal areas. One such is the “Kalash Women’s Project”. It was established in 1955 to promote economic empowerment for women. It provides Kalash women with education, training, financial resources, and markets or opportunities for their products. Due to this project, the Kalash women have been able to start businesses, increase their income and improve their social statuses. Other initiatives include the Benazir Income Support Program (BSIP), which provides financial aid to women in impoverished households. This program was able to reduce poverty in rural and tribal areas, where it was implemented.
Another such initiative that aims for the economic empowerment of women includes the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Women Empowerment Program. It focuses on vocational training of women and provides microfinance support to them. They are taught local skills such as handicrafts, embroidery, tailoring, etc. Their products are marketed both locally and online.
Women in tribal societies are expected to prioritize their domestic responsibilities, including childcare and household chores. They are subject to strict gender segregation and are often unable to interact with men outside their families. As is the case, women in tribal areas are bound by their cultural values, therefore, we need to create such opportunities for them, which do not compromise their values or norms. Like the KPK Women Empowerment Program, we should create opportunities of economic participation for tribal women in their homes, with skills like embroidery, pottery, handicrafts, etc. which can be produced from their homes, and then the government can help sell them off in the market. The government should provide education, training, financial aid and markets to the tribal and rural women, and try to create awareness with the tribal leaders, so that we may be able to break down the barriers which limit their economic participation.
Maha Iqbal is a student of Government and Public Policy at National Defence University, Islamabad, interested in the economy and governmental procedures behind it.