PAKISTAN: IDP widows struggle to cope

News and Press Release
Originally published
PESHAWAR, 14 January 2010 (IRIN) - Like most women from the rural areas of Pakistan's North West Frontier Province (NWFP), Razila Bibi, 70, had rarely left her home village near the town of Kabal in conflict-hit Swat Valley before she was displaced in June 2009.

"Since I was married when I was 16 years, I only cared for the livestock and did household tasks. I knew very little about the outside world. I am learning now, at this age," she told IRIN in Peshawar, NWFP's provincial capital, where she and her family have been staying with a relative.

Razila is now the head of a household that includes her daughter-in-law, her four grandchildren and her own daughter, aged 30. Her son, who remained in Swat during the months of fighting as army soldiers moved into the area in May 2009, died in July. The circumstances of his death are unknown and the family has no male member to support them.

"Things are hard. We cannot go home because we have no income and the house we were renting has been taken by someone who could pay more to the owner," said Razila.

She also said it was hard to obtain rations distributed to internally displaced persons (IDPs) by the government or NGOs as neither she nor her daughter-in-law have an ID card.

"We never had one made before and only my late husband and son had them, but now we are asked for one each time we collect supplies," she said.

The women have filed an application with the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA), the government body responsible for issuing ID cards, but do not yet know when the document will be issued. NADRA had begun the process of registering IDPs in May 2009, after the first wave of displacements.


There is growing concern about the situation of women on their own. "We have begun investigating the position of widows in the conflict-hit areas, and getting some statistics about the number," Phillipe Fischard, communications delegate in Peshawar for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), told IRIN. He also said a project was planned to distribute cows to widows to help sustain livelihoods.

Besides issues linked to housing and livelihood, tradition was also making it hard for women from conservative areas such as Swat to live on their own.

"I am an educated woman, capable of earning for myself. But it would be considered immoral for me to live independently. Women live either with their parents or their husbands," Uzma Farooq Khan, 25, a teacher from Mingora now based in Peshawar, told IRIN. "This makes it hard for widows to find a safe place for themselves to live in while most are also illiterate and have no means to earn an income."

Housing problems

"Our house near Mingora [the principal city of Swat] was very badly damaged. I cannot afford to hire people to help re-build it, and even here [in Peshawar], where I have found some work embroidering clothes, I struggle to support my three young children," said Jalila Asif, 30, another widow.

According to UN Habitat, 6,816 houses in Swat District were damaged and 1,812 of them destroyed completely in the fighting between government troops and militants.

Jalila told IRIN her husband may have been killed because he was suspected of supporting the militants. She currently lives with distant relatives who have hosted her family since May 2009, but "keep warning us we must leave soon because they cannot continue to give us shelter in their cramped home".

Severe displacement

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) issued a Humanitarian End of Year Review 2009 for Pakistan on 13 January in which it said Pakistan experienced the worst internal displacement crisis of its history in 2009 when up to 2.7 million individuals were forced to leave their homes in parts of NWFP, including Swat District, and tribal areas bordering Afghanistan as a result of insecurity and hostilities.

By the end of 2009, humanitarian assistance was still being provided to 1.1 million IDPs, host families as well as to 1.6 million returnees, OCHA said. Among them are widows who have no income, and in some cases, no homes, Billi Bierling, OCHA public information officer, told IRIN.

There are also widows and children at IDP camps who continue to face problems. Their numbers are, however, unknown: "We do not have the breakdown between men, women and children," Bierling said.