| Hadiya Amir
Mapping women empowerment through developmental projects: a case study of Gojal Valley
Rising awareness about the social issues all around the world has brought many concerns about the women rights, women empowerment, their place in the society and gender equality to the highlight. There have been enormous efforts to make women the part of economic value chain with the goal of improving the living standards of women. Many developmental projects have been initiated in order to empower women of the Gilgit Baltistan. These institutions and Organizations have also worked in the small villages of Gojal Valley such as Gulmit, Ghulkin and Hussaini which were the chosen areas in order to carry out research on mapping women empowerment through developmental projects. The major actors being Agha Khan Rural Support Program under Agha Khan Foundation and UNICEF has worked to train women many skills in the past along with the Government in early 1980’s. in the current scenario Government is least involved in working for the area, however AKRSP continues to plan projects and provide opportunities for the women as well as many other important NGOs such as KADO: Karakorum Area Development Organization initiated in 1998, JAICA: a Japanese NGO, HASHOO: introduced in 2007 which aimed at forming women business groups also made women aware of better farming techniques and developed brands such as honey brand for women to make better money, has gradually got involved in the process so that the asset base of women could be improved to its maximum. Besides this many Handicrafts promotion programs initially introduced in 1996 provided vocational training to women in order to transform crafts to marketable products. The local institutions like Local Support Organization (LSO), organization for Local Development and Women Organization (WO) have been formed in every village separately to provide services such as providing loans to initiate small businesses. These institutions also act as a planning and guiding platform for women who are interested in undertaking any business initiative. Despite this the list of proposed projects never ends. There are many proposed projects such as pipeline project for training women in every kind of wood work e.g. furniture manufacturing and another pipeline project in collaboration with the Chinese investors in order to initiate making of silk by local women. AKF has also funded the villages in order to set up the educational institutions for educating women to every level and the literacy rate is increasing ever since. There are many training centre for women in every village separately which provide training for skills such as sewing, embroidery, carpet weaving, jam making, candle making etc. Thus the sole goal of all these organizations always have been to provide vocational and training skills, savings and credits to women so that productivity is enhanced, they participate in the economy, reduce their dependence on men, improve their living standard and their activity outside the domestic sphere is promoted. This institutional perspective under the current development agenda is the visible part of the picture which apparently portrays itself as beneficial to the community particularly women.
In the past the women were involved in all the household chores including taking care of the fields and livestock and their prior focus was to provide their children early childhood education, although they themselves did not possess any formal education yet they were knowledgeable. The impact of the recent development for empowerment of women has impacted the family structure negatively resulting in an imbalance. As those women continue to work, their family’s health and children’s upbringing is neglected. The kind and quality of food has also changed over the time, the working women would prefer to buy food from the outside or cook the food which requires less effort such as by using manufactured products and hence the health is compromised. Time is not equally distributed among the family or household chores and work and therefore their own health is often compromised leading to less sleeping hours. This also reduces the transfer of intergenerational knowledge as less time to teach the culture and norms to their child. Based on the interviews in the three respective villages it was also revealed that working women prefer to plan their family according to their ease thus change in family size. The micro credit schemes which provide loans for the women to take business initiatives also put women under the pressure of repayment of that loan and continuous surveillance by committee members.
On the other side the educated and skillful but unemployed and underemployed women also have the pressure of utilizing their skill as in the absence of sufficient job opportunities especially when the home based jobs are not available, they are not usually able to give an economic value to the skill they possess, in this way they are more susceptible to suicide. They are mostly subjected to low wages as they have to compete with labor intensive market segment. In this way these women act as reserved army of labor and this is the main but hidden agenda of all the developmental projects as employment of the women or making them a part of value chain is beneficial for the market in various ways. Labor power’s value is decreased when women are brought into the market as women as laborer could be paid less as compared to men. Therefore it can be concluded that the word ‘empowerment’ has contradictions within itself. The empowerment through developmental projects is less beneficial for the women themselves or their family but is actually in the favor of current capitalist system which requires women to be a part of economic value chain. With this ongoing system which is unstoppable and overpowering, such conditions should be provided for the women of these areas which are socially favorable considering them the most vulnerable part of the society. The best solution is to provide them with economic resources along with training at the doorstep. The NGOs need to come up with such plans and setups which do not harm family structure of women and consider their social position. Providing women the economic resources will provide them freedom to choose their preferences.