The caravan has been organised by ActionAid Pakistan and PODA (Potohar Organization for Development Advocacy) to mark nearly one year on from the devastating floods which swept the country in 2010. Women from different flood hit areas of Pakistan including Sindh, Khyber Pukhtunkhwa and South Punjab gathered in the capital on Tuesday to rally public and media support for the cause of poor women affected heavily by the unprecedented floods.
A large number of rural women joined by students, civil society, and concerned citizens travelled through Islamabad on a 40 ft float decorated with banners carrying their demand slogans. They gave theatrical performances in Fatima Jinnah Park, Islamabad. They demanded that the government issue Watan cards to flood-affected women as a priority, and that women farmers be given ownership of land and control over productive resources. They also called for women's needs be prioritized in the flood rehabilitation process.
Jannat Mai from Kot Adu, a proactive participant of the Women's Caravan said, ‘Those were the horrible days of our life as massive flood waves came all of sudden and washed away all of our belongings. In the aftermath of the floods, women found themselves in the most vulnerable situation as there was a marked rise in incidents of domestic violence and gender discrimination in relief and rehabilitation programmes sponsored by the government'.
The Women's Caravan blended interesting features of folk music, folk dance and interactive street theater attracted a large number of audience and supporters from different sections of society. Starting on Tuesday 24th May, it will end its journey on Wednesday 25th May before the National Press Club where the women will present street plays to demand the inclusion of women in the reconstruction process, planning and implementation being undertaken by the government, international and national NGOs.
“Women were also barred from collecting relief materials from food distribution centers because of recurrent incidences of harassment and misconduct. Similarly, women were marginalized in the ‘Watan Card' distribution scheme which affected their morale to cope with emergency situation”, said Sakeena, a women farmer from Layyah.
The floods affected 78 out of a total of 141 districts in Pakistan, covering one third of its geographical area and more than 18 million people (one tenth of the population). 14 million people (including 9.18 million women) were in need of immediate humanitarian assistance. An estimated area of 50,000 square kilometers (km) was affected, 2.2 million hectares of standing crops were destroyed and half a million livestock were lost. There were 1,980 deaths confirmed, and 1.7 million homes and 10,000 schools damaged or destroyed.
ActionAid Pakistan has planned a series of events to highlight issues facing the women and poor flood affected people one year after the flood disaster. The planned activities spanning three months, May to July 2011, include a unique Women's Caravan in Islamabad, a policy dialogue on Disaster Risk Reduction in Post 18th amendment scenario; a special publication on flood emergency and response, with testimonies from flood affected women and children; and a grand multi- stakeholder consultation in which poor communities from flood affected areas and representatives of responsible authorities and policy makers will participate.