Women's Caravan, a unique visual stunt by rural women

ActionAid Pakistan has planned a series of events and activities to mark the one year anniversary of the 2010 floods that caused massive devastation in our country. The commemoration of "floods - one year mark" started in Islamabad yesterday with a unique visual stunt put together by rural women of flood affected areas.

Women from Kot Adu and Taunsa (South Punjab) travelled in a 40 ft decorated float in Islamabad carrying banners and slogans. They used interactive theatre, folk music and personal testimonies to highlight their issues in the aftermath of flood.

The general public and media took great interest in listening to the women and speaking to them. The ‘Uniqueness’ of the stunt, and the large sized banners carrying women’s key demand "Prioritization of women and budgetary allocation for women’s rehabilitation package" did not go unnoticed.

Women had come to participate in the event carrying their small children. They shared serious concerns about lack of food and nutrition for their children and absence of government support in terms of watan cards. (cash cards).

We spoke to some women and girls a day before their stunt. Here is some of what they said to us:

Zainab bibi, belongs to Kot Adu, south Punjab. She has eleven children. Oldest is 35 and youngest is 12 years old. Three older children ones are married and live on their own with their families while eight children live with her and her husband. Zanab Bibi’s husband is a field labourer. She also works on the field and sometimes stitches clothes and quilts for other villagers for a small payment.

We are poor people. We don’t have a regular source of income.

"Our house was badly damaged and almost everything was destroyed (in 2010 floods). We have not received Watan card (government’s relief cash card)."

I have come to Islamabad to plead my case before the authorities. I thought if I told them how miserable we are and how poor and helpless we feel in the absence of any support, government might look at us and do something for us.

"I am very hopeful that our demand for rehabilitation support will be heard."

15 years old Farzana has come to Islamabad from Village Murad Wala, Kot Adu (South Punjab) to participate in women’s caravan. She has five siblings ( 2 brothers, 3 sisters).

"My father cuts and sells wood for a living. My mother is not well and she stays home. I went to school for few months but my mother told me that going to school was expensive and I should sty home to help her with house chores. We don’t have any land, or property. Our home was destroyed in the flood. We haven’t received watan card so far. I have come to Islamabad to do theatre. That way people will know about our problems. I hope our efforts will be successful. I want government to give us watan card, give us a house and a job for my father so that I can go back to school."

14 years old Umaima from Kot Adu (South Punjab) is participating in women’s caravan.

We didn’t get the 'watan card'. Only rich people got the cash support but poor people like us did not get anything. My grandparents helped us to rebuild a roof over our head. I had to leave school as there is hardly enough money to buy food for all of us, how can my parents afford my education?

"We also lost our cows, but government has not given us any compensation. I am happy to be part of women’s caravan. We will tell people of our problems through theatre and demand funds from the government to help us recover from the devastation. "

36 years old Manzooran Mai from Taunsa Shareef, Kot Adu (South Punjab) is participating in women’s caravan. Manzooran got married at the age of 14 to a man who was more than twice her age. At present, she tells, her husband is too old to make a living. In order to feed her children, she is forced to beg on the streets.

"I have 6 children, three daughters and three sons. My oldest son is 15 and the youngest is only a few months old. I breast feed two smaller children. I don’t have money to buy milk for them. I feel weak and unwell, but I have to look after my children. My husband cannot work; the poor man is too old and ill. Therefore I sing and beg on the streets. Sometimes people give me money, sometimes food and sometimes clothes. I am getting by. I hope government gives me a piece of land so that I can grow my own vegetables. I won’t have to beg for food anymore."