Pakistani women should get a chance to be more secure

by Shahbano Haroon

Imagine a wheat field: vast land, a wandering bull, and lines of tired women. Spending their days working in the fields, rural women have to endure long hours of work without an opportunity to relieve themselves in privacy.

The ghastly truth of rural Pakistan is that around 25 million people of the rural population do not have access to water and sanitation facilities.

The intrinsic right to seclusion and safety is blatantly denied in villages – especially for women. When it comes to water and sanitation facilities, there is a lack of accessibility and these women are forced to turn to the fields as their primary bathroom. Due to this gap, the risks they face on a daily basis exacerbate – from the chances of sexual harassment, health and sanitary issues multiplying to a complete lack of privacy – the situation is overtly grim.

However, the struggle does not end there. While the situation on a whole is improving, UNICEF observed that 13% of Pakistan’s population still practice open defecation with only 60% having access to basic hygiene. Taking a closer look at the bathroom facilities that currently exist aids a realization of how the patriarchal mindset of our country manifests itself in the right to privacy and sanitation as well. When it comes to accessibility in terms of resources available for women, there is a major and inherent imbalance. When the patriarchy seeps itself into the very mapping of something as simple as sanitation facilities – it becomes clear that sex does infect play a part in this disparity. Despite the needs of women inherently being greater, for example in the context of menstrual hygiene, they were reduced every chance they had.

Such is the story of the women of Chuk 74, a small village in the district of Sargodha. While they spend their days slaving away in the fields, their labor used to provide for millions around the country, they are still marginalized everyday with their right to privacy and sanitation snatched away. However, hearing about their stories and the problems they face has served as inspiration for the people of Chuk 74 to unite and come together. Building water and sanitation facilities in the fields and its vicinity became a priority for the villagers. Each brick carefully planned and placed came together to provide a safe haven for these women. A small room, bricks on either side and access to water, that is all the people of Chuk 74 had to offer – but it was a starting point. The days and nights of these women became easier and their life suddenly held a plethora of opportunities.

Realizing the jarring intensity of the issue, multiple organizations all over the country have taken up projects to facilitate the construction of bathroom facilities in rural areas. Nonprofits such as the LPP are already paving the way in places like Basti Ameerwala, where 15 out of 60 households now have latrines, but there are still many stones left to be unturned.

Living in a country like Pakistan, it is often easy to forget about the importance of basic rights like access to sanitation and privacy. Within the rigid and constraining schedules women follow in rural areas, their need for separate and safer bathrooms is not only rudimentary, but critically vital at this stage. Keeping in mind the onset of the coronavirus pandemic and the growing economic and sexual adversities faced in poorer regions, women are enduring financial challenges and domestic violence endemics. Therefore, today, more than ever, it is time to place those bricks to build a safer and more comfortable future for the women of Chuk 74, and the women of Pakistan – starting with a simple bathroom.

Imagine a wheat field: vast land, but spaces dedicated to clean and sheltered bathrooms. Women getting the chance to be more secure.

The writer is an A-level student focusing on advocating for women’s rights and social justice issues.

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