By Mumtaz Manzoor
For thousands of years, Chitrali women have been working in the fields, grazing cattle in pastural land, collecting firewood from far mountains to meet their family needs. Women work side by side of the male family members throughout the year, helping in ploughing, sowing seeds, watering and harvesting the wheat, rice and maize crops. In fact, there are certain agriculture roles which are only performed by women in Chitral, such as removing grass and weeds from the rice crop in paddy field, kitchen gardening, peeling maize skin, cleaning wheat for milling and collecting fodder for animals.
Working in the field is an additional duty that women perform, along with their culturally defined roles such as child rearing, cooking, weaving, knitting, and cleaning the house, milk collection and animal care. If woman can perform so many duties, doesn’t she deserve to have some recreation time with family and friends? Why can’t she take a day off from her household obligations and accompany her husband, son, father, friends, or other family members to go to Qaqlasht to have a glimpse of the seasonal festival.
The order of the local councillors barring women from watching Qaqlasht festival is not only against Chiltrali norm of women participation. It reveals the misogynist and extremist views of the local leaders. It also depicts the incompetency of these leaders in the arrangement of the festival. Where on earth, festivals are arranged only for men? Chitrali women are the citizens of the same country, where woman has reached Mount Everest, playing cricket and football, winning Olympic medal, making scientific discovery, serving in armed forces. It is the worst example of patriarchy and female subjugation. What kinds of questionable things are males doing at Qaqlasht festivals that they feel ashamed and insecure, to do it in front of female audience? What harms will it bring to the local leaders, if women and children sit at one designated side as spectators of football, cricket, paragliding and other local games of the festival?
If the local leaders have issues with female participation, they should confine their decision to their own homes; they have no right to impose it on the entire Chitrali population.
Culturally Chitrali woman is not confined to the walls of the house, she comes out every day for fodder collection, cattle grazing and to perform lots of other above mentioned activities in the field, why can’t she go to a festival? This is the hypocrisy of Chitrali men, that they need female support when it comes to laborious work in the field, but they are not ready to take their women to a seasonal festival.
Don’t forget, in the election, these women have also cast their votes. Didn’t you even bother to take the opinion of women representatives of Chitral, while taking this decision.
This decision reflects the perception of Chitrali men, that human rights are only for males, but no such rights should exist for females. If Chitrali men could have the compassion to think about the wellbeing, and mental health of the women in their houses, we might not have such high female suicide rates.
The Human Rights Program Chitral reported that 40 women (aged 15-35) committed suicide from 2011 to 2013 in the district. Another study showed that 62% suicide cases, from 2007-2011 were women. The district has 3rd highest literacy (62%) rate in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, with 45% female literacy. Despite increase in women literacy the suicide incidents have escalated. There could be many reasons for increasing suicide tendencies among women, stress is for sure one of the major cause.
Letting women have some relaxation time will help them reduce their stress. Research suggests the mother’s stress has a negative impact on child’s mental health and schooling. If Chitrali leaders want to have better health and academic performance of our youth, they should provide recreational facilities to Chitrali mothers to help them live stress free life.
In the civilized world festivals are meant to be for families, Qaqlasht festival should be a source of entertainment for families and children. There should be special area designated to women during Qaqlasht festival, where females can sit with their children to watch the festival.
Local leaders should understand that women inhale the same oxygen that men breathe, they require the same nutrients what men eat. If men seek stress free time, so do women. It is vital for women’s mental health that they should have access to recreational activities.
Furthermore, Chitralis are viewed as polite, educated and civilized people in Pakistan. This kind of decisionscan tarnish our image and negatively impact our tourism and economy.
The writer is PhD student at The University of Adelaide, Australia.