Saturday, March 9, 2019

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#WomensDay - 8 women reveal what it's like to be single and over 30 while living in Pakistan

Munnazzah Raza
Are independent, single, happy women a threat to the patriarchal system of marriage? In short, yes.
Relatives are relentless when it comes to marriage.
I'm constantly trying to drown out comments like, "Stop with your nakhras, no one is perfect" and "Till how long will you keep rejecting rishtas? You're not going to be of marriageable age for long."
It. is. extremely exhausting. Eventually, I learned the art of, 'Jee aunty, bas dua karein', a result of endless disagreements and fruitless debates.
It's hard for society to accept that a woman can choose to be single and any attempt to justify it is futile; if people can feel at liberty to probe into something as intimate as conceiving, then somebody's marriage is definitely their right, right?
"The pressure on women to marry can be extremely damaging to their self esteem and sense of self worth," Nida Kirmani, Associate Professor of Sociology at LUMS tells me. "From a young age, girls are told that they will only be valued in relation to a man, that no matter how much she accomplishes individually, the most important thing is to get a ‘good rishta’ and settle down. For women who resist this, and there are a growing number, it is a constant battle against societal norms."
And persistent shaadi pressure is a way of "inadvertently shaming women for being single by making them feel like failures. Even when friends/relatives do this out of care and concern, this can be damaging," she adds.
While the main worry in past generations was the financial and economic stability of a woman, though it continues to be, it has lessened to a degree because more women in Pakistan are opting to contribute to the work force.
Nida says, "Even though we know that the male breadwinner model is extremely problematic, there are limited economic opportunities for the vast majority of women. This economic reality also has a strong influence on marriage practices."
By that logic shouldn't parents be advocating financial independence to their daughters? Especially mothers who come from unhappy marriages? "Women are socialised into believing this is the only option for them. They are taught that there is no way out of this cycle. Hence, we often see older women who are unhappy in their marriages impose the same system on their daughters and daughters-in-law."
Unfortunately this pressure of marriage is ingrained so deep in our consciousness that anyone who defies it is deemed a rebel. Like the sociologist adds, "Independent, single and happy women threaten the very foundations of this patriarchal evidence and therefore are extremely threatening."
I asked 8 single Pakistani women above 30 what life is like living in this society: the good, the bad, and the ugly. Here's what they have to say.
The PhD who plans to revolutionise Pakistan's public policy
I'm in my early 30s, a Muslim Pakistani woman who works full time, lives with her dad, and is single. No shame in that.
I am mostly single because I am an introvert who doesn't enjoy the things women are conventionally expected to or, indulging a man's superficial sexual fantasy - which in our society is uncannily driven by skin, voice, hair, class, background - all the things nobody controls, and all the things that actually don't define your person.
And also because I'm sapiosexual, so stupidity will make me lose interest in a man like nothing else -- I've been told by several guys I'm intimidating.
I was on a mission for a long time to get out of Pakistan and get a doctorate in public policy with a focus on education so I could come back and wrestle the public system into providing each Pakistani a useful learning experience. And every boy along the way who has not aligned with this has either had his heart broken or has broken mine, but you carry on in life because there are bigger problems to solve than just finding the right guy.
"Stupidity will make me lose interest in a man like nothing else. I've been told by several guys I'm intimidating because of what I know, or understand, or the things I can analyse very easily."
People often bluntly ask me my marital status, and I bluntly respond, single. It's never been a big deal to me, and just because it's bothering somebody else, I'm not going to internalise their frustrations. I just don't want other people weighing me down about it because they want to get new clothes made or they feel sorry for me.
I get asked: do you want to be lonely forever? How much work exactly are you hoping to get done? You're getting old, and the 'good' guys/ 'choices' are running out, soon you'll have to settle for whatever comes your way.
I work four jobs and the life I have right now, I could never pull off in a traditional marriage. So my current marital status is an asset. However, it's hard on days when people resent you for having time because they've got to attend to their spouses and the pressure to get married when you're not really feeling it is the hardest. I cry. I confide in my sisters. It's okay not to be brave all the time. I'd go silent before, but now I politely tell people, 'Look I'm sure there's lots I don't know about you, and there's definitely lots you don't know about me.'
My father does bring up marriage on occasion, he realises he's got to continue advising his daughter in his parental responsibility, but also support her battles and aspirations also in a parental capacity. It's gotten to a precious balance of me trying to build a life as a full human being - with the realisation that when I get to know somebody I truly enjoy being with, I'll entertain the thought of marriage.
I probably spend about 2% of my week even thinking about whether I should get into a steady, long-term relationship. I guess I'm not coming across any intelligent men lately, haha! When the right guy comes along he will just match my pace. It's all about pace.
The writer from a religious minority who will only marry for love.
As a single woman belonging to a religious minority in Pakistan, I've experienced a fundamental change in the way I perceive love and partnership. The pickings are slim anyway and some heartbreaks in, you realise religion is a deal-breaker. When marriage comes at the cost of religious conversion just for the sake of acceptance, being single is not a hard choice to make, personally speaking. Alternatively, I'm asked, 'why don’t you find a good Christian boy?'
Suffice to say, during my time in Pakistan I did not find a good Christian boy and he, too, never came looking for me. I am relentlessly single-shamed. Questions like 'why do you think you're single?' make me feel extremely awkward. I guess people hope that I'll draw out a list of my faults that repel men, therein accepting that I am flawed and need to 'work' on myself to be good enough for someone. My own mother never pressured me; and this has perhaps provided greater impetus for other family friends and members to bring it up any given opportunity.
I consider myself lucky to have been brought up by a single mother, in that I was aware of and equipped to deal with gender inequality at a very young age. Fighting for basic freedoms is an intrinsic part of who I am. Has that potentially scared away suitors? Yes, every single one of them.
"As a single woman from a religious minority in Pakistan, I've realised religion IS a deal-breaker. When marriage comes at the cost of religious conversion just for the sake of acceptance, being single is not a hard choice to make, personally speaking."
Society typically thinks a woman’s best chance at survival is to marry, so my family and friend’s concern is understandable but however well-meaning this concern may be, it does end up equating being single with failure, loneliness or a personality problem.
The fear of being single is fueled by social and cultural expectations. Why should one of the most important decisions of your life be made out of fear?
I also strongly believe romantic relationships are not central to well-being. Not in the way mental health, and financial independence are. Having said that, I am certainly not against the idea of marriage so long as couples can redefine the concept to suit their own needs and personalities, and can separate themselves from the historical makeup of the institution enough to make it a strong, healthy, and equal relationship.
Contrary to people's expectations, managing my daily life while single is relatively easy. I am not absorbing anyone else's debts, I take greater risks professionally, I can relocate to the other side of the world on a whim, I plan my vacations without any delay, and I cook for one.
Still, I get terrible comments from people, like 'you'll never be a homemaker because you come from a broken home.' How do I deal with comments like this? By making spectacular homes everywhere I live.
The master's graduate who supports her family
I come from a traditional middle class family and my education and career are my first priority in life. Although I wanted to get married when I was younger but once I started focusing on my schooling and work, my perspective towards life changed - I decided not to get married for the sake of it and to instead find someone compatible.
My family is quite supportive, when I spoke to them about going to the UK for my Master's they appreciated my decision. I've now come back to Pakistan to pursue a career in journalism and though my parents are concerned about me they never pressurised me to get married or shamed me for being single.
But I'm quite disappointed in my friends, even the close ones, they often bring up marriage; for them it is an achievement and they see me as a failure. None of them congratulated me when I came back after my degree, they straight away asked, 'Oh when are you getting married?'.
"When I was overweight people would tell me to shed pounds otherwise nobody is going to marry me, or that I should apply whitening creams to get good rishtas. Some people think that because I support my family that's why I'm not getting married, or that I’m not getting married on purpose."
Being single is my own decision and I do not feel bad about it but when people annoy me with questions and see me as someone who has not achieved anything in life then it becomes slightly depressing. In Pakistan, the purpose of a woman's existence is to get married and have kids and there's a certain timeline to achieve this in and if you don't by the age of 25 then they start looking down upon you.
I have heard a lot of negative and unpleasant comments related to my singlehood. When I was overweight, people would tell me to shed pounds otherwise nobody will marry me, or that I should apply whitening creams to get good rishtas. Some people think that because I support my family that's the reason I'm not getting married, or that I’m not getting married on purpose.
Sometimes I ignore it, sometimes I snap back but usually I try to avoid confrontation. What hurts is that my best friends often bring this up and shame me. I cannot express rage on social issues online because I get comments like, 'Get married, maybe then you will have control over your anger' and these things bother me.
I have had married men make advances towards me thinking that since I am single and not "young" anymore I must be desperate for their attention - which is really pathetic and repulses me. Honestly, when I was abroad I never felt disrespected in any way but as far as most Pakistani men are concerned, they have a very backward thinking when it comes to single women.
I tried to reach out to a few close friends but they said I should pray more and be patient, they tried to portray me as a bechari so I've stopped confiding in them.
It does get depressing when people bring this up but at the same time I know what I have to do and I'm not going to live how others want me to live. I am very positive about the fact that if I find someone I will definitely get married and if I don't I'm self sufficient.
The trans dancer who has run out of patience for men
Ever since I was a child I knew who I was.
When I'd come home from school, I'd take off my uniform and dress up like Juhi Chawla. I'd wear gajras and pretend I'm a bride.
Now I'm a dancer and perform at functions, otherwise you'll find me in the kitchen cooking food, sometimes it's a hit, sometimes a miss. I truly discovered who I was when I met people from my community. When I was younger I used to think I was a girl, but when I met them I realised I am a trans woman.
I'm from a middle class family, and an orphan. My siblings are kind towards me, my extended family treats me well with the exception of my paternal aunts, I don't get along with them or their kids but I get along well with my maternal side.
Society sees us in a negative light. When we go to functions, the way men behave with us after families leave... I'd rather not even talk about it. Forget the future, I don't even know whether I will live the next few seconds or not.
"I have never even thought of marriage with a woman because I have the soul of a woman. But right now I have no intention of getting married, ever. I want to be free."
I don't trust anyone as I've had my heart broken by many men, but this love is blind thing always gets me. In fact, I was dating a guy for a month and I found out through his friend that he was just fooling around with me. I gave him a good beating and broke it off. I have had relationships in the past but I ended them because none of them were serious.
I never even thought of marriage with a woman because I have the soul of a woman. From childhood I knew that I wanted a husband, someone who I will spend the rest of my life with and have kids with, as I consider myself a woman. But when you grow up and become aware of your surrounding,s you realise you don't want a man. I think they are trash and not worth it. If they can't even stay faithful to their wives, how will they ever be faithful to their girlfriends?
Marriage is an issue with family though, they force you into it. People annoy my family incessantly and then my family questions me, 'What's wrong with you? Why are you like this?'. Yes, there are marriages in our community, trans women do get married to men, and most families accept the trans gender and vice versa.
For my family, however, I am a man, and we get the same taunts as anyone else, 'He doesn't have a lot of time.' Everyone is constantly pressurising us. But with us, you know, some get married forcefully because of family and society. I always tell my sisters-in-law that I don't want to get married. Why should I marry a woman? Why should I ruin that woman's life? I cannot offer her anything. No matter how much I pretend to be a man I'll always be a woman.
Some women like me and send me their photos but I cannot cheat them and rob them of the truth so I tell them 'No women, men only.' I'm totally against hurting someone's feelings.
Right now I have no intention of getting married, ever. I don't want to be tied down, I want to be a free bird and I don't want to be caged. Freedom is happiness and once you're married you lose that freedom.
The art history major who doesn't want to marry again
I'm 39 and the eldest of four siblings. My family is relatively laid back and we are all very close. My family wanted me to get an education and never really openly discussed marriage plans but the constant reminder of 'you can do this in your own house' was always there. So the pressure was more implicit than direct, if that makes more sense? My younger friends are constantly reminded about their singlehood, my own sister is a doctor so she was bombarded with questions about marriage when she started medical school. So I don't think much has changed, in that marriage remains the end all be all for women. Yes, I was previously married, it began very well but issues relating to immigration and visas caused a lot of tension in our relationship.
I did want children at one point in my 20s but I don't anymore. My 30s have been very liberating in the sense that I don't really care about larger 'societal norms'. If I ever have the urge to have children, I would like to adopt because there are so many children in the world that need love.
"Financially, life is a constant struggle. I have to make sure that I am financially independent and I've worked at terrible places at the cost of my mental and physical well being."
Financially, life is a constant struggle. I have to make sure that I am financially independent and I've worked at terrible places at the cost of my mental and physical well being. I am a lot happier than I was five years ago, it was very hard in the first year because I felt like such a failure but I gradually realised that my constant anxiety was gone.
I have no desire to get married again or be in a relationship because I don't want to depend on another individual for my self-worth or happiness. I have amazing friends and at least for now I don't feel the need to change my lifestyle in any way.
Frankly, I am practically ancient according to desi standards and I don't envision that I'd find anyone interested in me or vice versa at least in Pakistan. Also, it's not a priority at the moment.
The restaurateur who hopes to adopt a child
I'm 34 and I'm a free spirit. When I was younger, my mother gave me two options: either be a doctor or an engineer, she was a working woman who served the Pakistan Air force and my father was an economist. They wanted me to be an engineer because rishtay achhay aingay.
In our culture, parents are the ones who make the decisions in your life, you don't decide anything for yourself and that was the case with me as well.
In the first 10 years of my life I was made to believe I'm destined only for marriage; when I was born my father wanted me to marry my cousin. At 16 I was almost married off to a man who was 32 years old. It came to such a point that I had to call up suitors and tell them weird things about me to stop them from saying yes.
When periods are such a taboo, how was I, as a daughter, supposed to go up to my parents and speak to them about marriage?
"I'm not against marriage. I've been there done that, I've been a bride thrice. But I've always wanted a lot from life. I learned through experience and it took my parents time to understand that I'm different."
When I was 24, I was willing to marry my boyfriend but his traditional Punjabi family had issues with my complexion. Plus they wanted an uber-rich woman for their son. As a bold woman, I was seen as a threat. He was UMS grad yet he wanted to exploit me and change my ways. Eventually I broke up with him.
My mother immediately found an excuse to get me married to my cousin. When the maulvi sahab asked me if I accept the haq mehr that's when I realised I was giving my life to someone who I didn't love -- and ended it.
My parents surrendered. Yes [at the time] you do get lonely because you don't have that support and social pressures start mounting because you're breaking your parents' hearts, but it's not like that anymore. We joke about the past now. I'm not against marriage - been there done that. I've been a bride thrice. (laughs). I also understand parents' insecurity about their daughter's financial stability and safety after they die. But I've always wanted a lot from life. I learned through experience and it took my parents time to understand that I'm different.
They want me to live my life the way I want to now, they say it's my call. It took more than fifteen years to make my parents reach this point.
Now I pick and choose everything in my life. I will marry completely for love. I will surrender to someone who will be comfortable with me and everything about me. If love happens, I want a companion. It has to be 50-50. But [marriage] destiny will decide [for me], I'm in no hurry at all. It is not a priority or a worry in my life.
The first thing I plan to do when I'm financially stable again is adopt a child and I will change their life. I want to be the woman who leaves this world with an impact.
The lawyer who is raising her son to be a feminist
I'm a 38-year-old lawyer. I'm also a single mother to a 13-year old boy.
I belong to a lower middle class family and my parents are uneducated. My family first brought up marriage when I was in 10th grade and they never stopped till I got married in 2005. I was forced to be a housewife -- something I had not agreed to. I had told my in laws that I want to practice law even after marriage, however my accomplishments and achievements were sidelined.
A year and a half later my partner divorced me. I had two options, either get married again or focus on my career. As a newly divorcee it was difficult to carry on with life but with time the more I succeeded in my career the more things became easy for me.
My friends and family were not happy in the beginning but gradually they accepted it. As I was not a financial burden on anyone they were fine with me but at the same time they kept pushing me to get married again and kept telling me 'akeily aurat ki koi zindagi nahi hoti is muashray mein' -- their way of telling me my life isn't complete.
"I was scared to speak to my son about the divorce, thinking he might feel it was my fault but the more I worked on women’s rights the more I felt the need to make him aware about domestic violence. It was important for me to educate him about my struggles and why I chose to stay as a single mother in a patriarchal society."
Even after my divorce, my success was overshadowed by questions of how I was going to live life as a single parent. The most difficult, however, was dealing with my marital status in the workplace, talking about it with my colleagues made me very vulnerable. Especially in an office full of men, the mention of being a single mother or divorcee put me in an uncomfortable spot and inappropriate things happen that normally people are careful of around single women.
Before I'd stay silent, but now I speak up. When people say 'divorcees are not good women because they couldn't be homemakers', I call them out. It does get tiring, having to defend yourself all the time is an exhausting process. There is a massive emotional cost of being single but the benefit and reality of being single is amazing. Right now I'm at a point where I will not sacrifice my liberty or freedom. I'm loving it and it's so much fun.
After my divorce I chose to remain single because I wasn't ready to trust men again, they just want women for their own needs or to make a home. Men mostly don't see women as human beings or as individuals who have their own needs or desires.
I was scared to speak to my son about it, thinking he might feel it was my fault but the more I worked on women’s rights the more I felt the need to make him aware about domestic violence and abuse. I waited till he turned 10. It was important for me as a single mother to educate him about my struggles and why I chose to stay as a single mother in a patriarchal society.
I strongly feel our children should know and acknowledge the challenges and struggles single parents go through and the reason why my marriage didn’t work, there shouldn’t be any shame attach to it.
The housekeeper who will only marry on her terms
I am 42 years old and I'm the breadwinner of my family. Being the youngest of nine siblings, without parents, I could see the stress at home after my brother, who has since passed away, fell sick, so I decided to work and contribute to the household. I found out about a family in Karachi who needed a housekeeper; since that day till now, some odd ten years, I have felt right at home working for them.
But people started talking about it. I was the first woman in my family to not only work but move to another city for it. They would say, 'She should be getting married not getting a job'. My brother was worried people would taunt him for living off his sister's earnings, because this was an unusual thing for them. But I would say logon ka kaam hai baatein karna, they're not paying our bills.
My sister would bring me rishtas so it wouldn't seem problematic that I'm a single woman earning for the house but I'd refuse them all because I want to work and I did not want to get married. That is my choice. If they'd be stern, I'd tell them I'll humiliate the family in public if they'd so much as think of forcing me because my consent is most important.
"I have a good life and I feel good being able to provide for my family and myself, but they make it seem like I'm destitute. I don't know why they're so invested in my life and can't understand I'm happy being single."
They backed off and understood. That's something I love about my family; they're open minded in this regard, they wouldn't force their daughters to get married at an early age, which is something very common in our Hindu community.
Since I'm a working woman, people think I'm up to immoral activities. I don't care what they say and my family trusts me. Why is a woman working in Karachi suddenly of bad character?
I still get rishtay and this topic always comes up when I go home for the holidays. Someone always mentions I'm getting older and should be married. But I immediately shut them up and tell them marriage is not the only important thing in life. I have a good life and I feel good being able to provide for my family and myself, but they make it seem like I'm destitute. I don't know why they're so invested in my life and can't understand I'm happy being single.
I don't have a problem with marriage but I want it to be on my terms. Whoever I'm with should not force me to work or not work. It's common in our society for men to marry women, leave them in the village and come to the city for work. I'm the one in the big city right now, I'm not going to go backwards.

#WomensDay - To Pakistan’s Women

Yesterday marked 8th March, which is celebrated globally as “Women’s Day”; a day that celebrates womanhood and gives ode to the women in history, and the women today, who fought and are fighting against the many trials, discrimination and challenges faced by women simply due to their gender. The date is significant in history- it was the day when women in Soviet Russia gained suffrage in 1917, leading to the day being celebrated by the socialist movement and then adopted by the United Nations.
Seeing that women are now more economically and socially independent than any point in history, it is a strange thought that less than a hundred years ago, women around the world were not even granted the right to vote. Humanity has progressed quite a lot since then- yet there is still a long way to go before the goal of gender equality is achieved. While the world might see more freedoms of women than before, there is still significant gendered discrimination faced by women of all classes, castes and races, and the evils of domestic violence, economic inequality, honour crimes, forced marriages and enforced gender roles still exist. For the enormous struggles that women still face, we commemorate this day to remind ourselves of the very long way to gender equality that still lies ahead.
Pakistan is a country which still faces significant gender disparity and Pakistani women have taken the initiative of using this day to further the cause of women empowerment in a revolutionary way. For a country with restricted mobility for women, and where women are not often seen in the public sphere, remarkable Pakistani women, through grassroots efforts, have arranged a protest, termed the “Aurat March”, where women, as well as men, of all classes and ethnicities, are invited to march along the roads to register their support for women empowerment and to demand an end to gendered oppression. For a society with so many divisions of class, gender and cast, it was heartening to see yesterday women from all backgrounds hold hands and march in unity against all kinds of oppression.
It is also encouraging that the Pakistan’s parliamentarians have expressed support for the movement. Prime Minister Imran Khan reaffirmed his government’s commitment to providing women a safe environment. But perhaps the most moving message came from parliamentarian Sherry Rehman who tweeted: “I march because public spaces are domains where I too have the right to have my voice heard. I march because we still have a long way to go.”

Educating brothel children in Pakistan should be a priority

These children are the forgotten by-product of Pakistan’s undercover sex trade; spending their days on the streets and returning at night to sleep on brothel floors. They face malnutrition, physical and mental abuse and are prime targets of trafficking.
The call to prayer echoes across the ancient walled city of Lahore. Worshippers hurriedly make their way towards the centuries-old Badshahi Mosque, and in its shadow thrives a trade older than the grand mosque itself.
Condemned by the devout and exploited by the elite, the sex workers of Heera Mandi, Lahore’s infamous red-light district, earn their living on the margins of society. Open doorways offer a fleeting glimpse into the realities of the women who live here, most of whom face a daily struggle to make ends meet.
Each has a different story to tell. Some were born into the trade while others were trafficked from rural villages and poorer parts of the city; lured by men with the prospect of marriage or employment and then sold off to brothels.
A winding alleyway leads to a small, concrete building with green doors. An unexpected chanting of nursery rhymes can be heard. Inside, a cluttered, makeshift classroom equipped with wooden desks, an alphabet-strewn blackboard and walls plastered with colourful drawings. The voices belong to the children of Lahore’s sex workers.

They are the forgotten by-product of Pakistan’s undercover sex trade; spending their days on the streets and returning at night to sleep on brothel floors. They face malnutrition, physical and mental abuse and are prime targets of trafficking.
According to Sahil, a local NGO, child sexual abuse cases in Pakistan have increased from nine cases per day in 2017 to 12 cases per day in 2018. Between January and June 2018, 2,322 child abuse cases were reported from all four provinces of Pakistan. The data revealed children between the ages of 6 and 10 were most vulnerable and, of the total cases reported, the majority of victims were girls.
Like shameful secrets, society prefers to keep them hidden and, to the Pakistan government, most of these children don’t exist. Since many are without fathers – a prerequisite to obtaining a birth certificate – school enrolment is not only difficult but nearly impossible.
“Every child deserves an education regardless of their background,” says Lubna Tayyab. “These children have dreams to become artists, teachers and doctors – to be respected members of society – and nobody has the right to deprive them of that.”
Born and raised in the red-light district herself, Lubna was taunted at school and made to feel like an outcast. Determined to provide an education for children who no other school seemed to want, she founded her project, Apni Taleem, which in Urdu means “Our Education”.
In 2011, Lubna converted the ground floor of her home into a classroom and began offering free schooling to the children of sex workers in her neighbourhood. She went door to door, engaging mothers in discussing the importance of education and encouraging their kids to attend. It wasn’t easy – most mothers were reluctant since their children were expected to contribute to the family income by begging on the streets, but Lubna persisted.
She made a special effort to recruit girls, who were less likely than their brothers to attend, and began offering free school meals. A dozen turned up, and today over 70 children are being taught a range of subjects, including literacy, numeracy and religious studies.
Apni Taleem operates on a budget of roughly £20,000 a year. Local donors show no interest in funding a school for the children of sex workers so UK-based Muslim Charity has stepped up; contributing towards the cost of rent, teacher’s salaries and educational resources.
The Pakistan government has also been reluctant to help. “They insist the children can attend government schools, but that’s not feasible,” says Lubna. “Government schools are meant to be free but in practice they’re not. Uniforms, textbooks and exam fees are costs sex workers can’t afford.”
The school is more than just a facility; it is a safe haven protecting vulnerable children from the harsh realities of street life. According to the Trafficking in Persons Report 2018, Pakistan does not meet the minimum standards for the elimination of sex trafficking but efforts to carry out more prosecutions are underway.
Last year, it reported investigating 6,376 alleged sex traffickers and prosecuting 6,232; an increase from 2,979 investigations and 2,021 prosecutions from the previous year. Pakistan also approved the Prevention of Trafficking in Persons Act 2018, which seeks to safeguard the rights of human trafficking victims. Overall efforts to combat trafficking remain inadequate compared to the scale of the problem.
Meanwhile, the safety of sex workers and their children remains a real concern. Local police do not provide adequate protection, so violence is a daily occurrence in their lives. Some of the children at the school have already been sexually exploited and their protection remains a key, underfunded priority.
Noor is determined her daughter gets a decent education. “She loves to learn,” she says. “Before the school, she was on the streets while I worked. I was constantly terrified not knowing where she was and what could happen to her.” Despite the challenges these women face, they remain resilient and spirited. Their eyes show hope for a better future and this small school is a big catalyst for their children to discover their full potential.
Lubna Tayyab unexpectedly passed away last month. Her husband and daughter, Fiza Tayyab, are committed to keep her project running. “This school was my mother’s dream and I’ll do everything I can to keep her dream alive,” says Fiza.
Irfan Rajput, director of international programmes at Muslim Charity says: “We are saddened to hear of Lubna’s death. She was a true humanitarian who fought passionately for the rights of women and children in Pakistan. We will continue to support the school in whatever way we can.”

China And Saudi Arabia Converge On Pakistan – Analysis

By Dilip Hiro

China and Saudi Arabia step in to support Pakistan after the US cuts $2.1 billion in financial and military aid.
A trilateral alliance of China-Pakistan-Saudi Arabia, driven by geo-economic interests, is emerging, with the Pakistani port of Gwadar on the Arabian Sea as its hub. This builds upon a geopolitical foundation dating back to the mid-1960s. With the Trump administration cutting $2.1 billion worth of financial and military aid to Islamabad,neighboring China and friendly Saudi Arabia have taken cash-strapped Pakistan under their wings to strengthen its economic base. In contrast to the wavering Washington-Islamabad relationship, Sino-Pakistani ties have become tighter with each passing decade.   
China’s interest in Gwadar dates back to 2001 when the visiting Chinese Prime Minister Zhu Rongji signed an agreement with Pakistan to turn the facility into a deep-water port. China covered three-quarters of the $250 million cost of building the port commissioned in 2007. Yielding to pressure by the United States, Pakistan’s president opted for giving the 40-year operating lease to PSA International, owned by the Port of Singapore Authority. The port was not operationally profitable, and Pakistan transferred control to state-owned China Overseas Ports Holding Company Limited, or COPHCL, in 2013.
Gwadar is strategically important for China, as 60 percent its imported oil originates in the Gulf region and passes through the Strait of Hormuz, a gateway for a third of the globe’s traded petroleum. The port is 650 kilometers from this strait whereas the Chinese port of Xingjian is 15,000 kilometers away. Crude oil arriving at Gwadar is to transported to China’s far western Xinjiang Autonomous Region overland by pipeline and the upgraded 1,300-kilometer Karakoram Highway, which opened to public in 1986.
During Chinese President Xi Jinping’s 2015 visit to Islamabad, Pakistan and China inked an agreement to start work on the $46 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, or CPEC, a network of infrastructure and energy projects. The corridor is an integral part of Beijing’s $900 billion One Belt, One Road, later renamed Belt and Road Initiative, that was unveiled in 2013. With that, Gwadar became the end point for one of six economic corridors stemming from China. The total investment in CPEC rose to $62 billion.
In 2016, CPEC became partially operational when Chinese goods were transported over the Karakoram Highway to Gwadar Port for maritime shipment to the Horn of Africa and the Middle East. Five months later, the Pakistani government leased Gwadar Port to the COPHCL for 40 years, authorizing the Chinese port holding company to carry out development work on the port and the vast adjoining free economic zone. Scale of the enterprise could be judged by Pakistani media reports suggesting that Gwadar’s population would rise exponentially to 500,000 by 2023, with gated residential quarters being constructed for about 10,000 Chinese and Pakistani professionals and their families. 
By all accounts, the future of the Gwadar port and the free economic zone is rosy. That was why during Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Sultan’s February visit to Islamabad, $8 billion of the $20 billion his government committed to invest in Pakistan were earmarked for an oil refinery in Gwadar.
With its foreign exchange reserves at $506 billion, the fourth highest in the world. Saudi Arabia can easily invest the sum it promised Islamabad – and even throw a $6 billion lifeline to save Pakistan from defaulting on servicing a huge loan secured from the International Monetary Fund in 2013. However, the kingdom did so only after Pakistan’s newly elected Prime Minister Imran Khan agreed to attend October’s Future Investment Initiative conference in Riyadh, boycotted by Western governments and financial institutions following the grisly murder of the dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul earlier that month.
Underlying these moves by the Saudi Kingdom is the realization, shared by China, that only by building new infrastructure in Pakistan and repairing its dilapidated facilities can its chronic economic ills be cured.
While China is forging ahead with Xi’s signature Belt and Road Initiative, Riyadh’s overambitious economic blueprint – Saudi Vision 2030, announced in 2016, to wean the kingdom away from oil, diversify its economy, bolster public services, build infrastructure and shore up its defense industry – has failed to take off. Most of the funding for the Saudi initiative was to have come from phased privatization of state-owned Saudi Aramco, the globe’s largest oil corporation. The $100 billion initial public offering of the company’s 5 percent share, expected in 2018, was postponed indefinitely due to legal concerns and the kingdom’s failure to achieve its total desired valuation of $2 trillion, based on oil barrel selling for a minimum of $70.
Briefed on the hurdles facing Saudi Vision 2030, Xi broached the subject with Bin Salman during his February visit to Beijing. “Our two countries should speed up the signing of an implementation plan on connecting the Belt and Road Initiative with the Saudi Vision 2030,” he said. No details were released. 
In contrast, the Trump administration is unlikely to end its shunning of Islamabad. In January 2018, Donald Trump canceled government plans for $1.3 billion of military aid to Pakistan and announced on Twitter that Pakistan had “given us nothing but lies and deceit,” accusing the nation of providing “safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan.” In addition, Washington cut $800 million to reimburse Islamabad for expenses incurred to support the US-led coalition’s counter-insurgency operations.
Altogether, since 9/11, Pakistan received more than $33 billion in US assistance, including more than $14 billion from Washington’s Coalition Support Funds.
By contrast, China’s diplomatic entente with Pakistan after the 1962 Sino-Indian War graduated to military cooperation with the common aim of containing the power of India, then backed by the Soviet Union. China’s military aided its Pakistani counterpart to set up ordnance factories with improved technologies. China started selling battle tanks and armored vehicles to Pakistan. Later Chinese military engineers designed tailor-made advanced weapons for Pakistan’s army, and issued licenses for domestic production.
Around the turn of the century Beijing started turning attention to the Pakistani air force and navy. This led to the co-production of China’s JL-8 fighter aircraft in Pakistan and China. In 2009, Pakistan became the first foreign country to receive China’s advanced fighter aircraft, JL-10. The two countries also turned to joint development of the JF-17 Thunder fighter aircraft and K-8 Karakorum training aircraft.
During a 2015 visit of Pakistan’s Army Chief, General Raheel Sharif, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi described Pakistan as China’s “irreplaceable, all-weather friend.” Three months later, China agreed to sell Pakistan eight conventional submarines worth $5 billion, the biggest arms sale by Beijing. In addition, China’s weapons deliveries to Pakistan include naval patrol vessels, unmanned aerial vehicles and surface-to-air missiles. Last December, a Special Forces contingent of China’s military arrived in Pakistan to participate in the sixth Pakistan-China joint military exercise. 
Pakistani troops played a major role in overpowering the armed militants who had seized the Grand Mosque in Mecca in 1979, threatening the Al Saud dynasty. Since then the nation has signed periodic contracts with Riyadh to post its soldiers in the kingdom. Pakistan has lent military expertise to Saudi Arabia, and the two nations conduct joint exercises annually. Joint naval exercises, called Naseem Al-Bahr, began in 1993 and have become a biennial feature. With Pakistan becoming a declared nuclear power in 1998, its strategic value to Saudi Arabia, wary of rival Iran’s nuclear ambitions, has risen sharply.
On the other side, India and the United States are worried about the prospect of China building a military base at Jiwani, 60 kilometers west of Gwadar, which already hosts a small naval base and airport.

Iran's Rouhani urges Pakistan to act against group behind border attack

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani called on Saturday for “decisive” action by Pakistan against a militant group behind a deadly suicide attack in a border area, saying failure to act could jeopardize relations.
Iran’s state news agency IRNA said Rouhani’s remarks were made during a telephone conversation with neighboring Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan, who said he would soon have “good news” for Iran, according to the report.
A suicide bomber killed 27 members of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards in mid-February in a southeastern region where security forces are facing a rise in attacks by militants from the Sunni Muslim minority.The Sunni group Jaish al Adl (Army of Justice), which says it seeks greater rights and better living conditions for the ethnic Baluchi minority, claimed responsibility for the attack.
“We are awaiting your decisive operations against these terrorists,” IRNA quoted Rouhani as telling Khan.
“We should not allow decades of friendship and fraternity between the two countries to be affected by the actions of small terrorist groups, the source of whose financing and arms is known to both of us,” Rouhani said.Iran has blamed its regional rival Saudi Arabia and arch-enemies Israel and the United States for the attack and other cross-border raids, an accusation rejected by the countries.Khan said Pakistani forces had come close to the attackers’ hideout and there would soon be “good news” for Iran, IRNA reported.“It is in Pakistan’s own interest not to allow our territory to be used by terrorist groups, and the Pakistani army is prepared to confront the terrorists more decisively with the information provided by Iran,” IRNA quoted Khan as saying.Revolutionary Guards commanders have vowed to retaliate for the attack, and Rouhani said on Saturday that Iranian forces were “ready to give a decisive answer to the terrorists in coordination with Islamabad,” IRNA reported.
In September, the Revolutionary Guards fired missiles at an Iraqi-based Iranian Kurdish dissident group that killed at least 11 people in an attack in a western border area.
In October, Iran fired missiles at Islamic State militants in Syria, whom it blamed for an attack that killed 25 people on its soil.

India demands Pakistan take concrete action against terrorists operating from its soil

India on Saturday demanded that Pakistan take concrete steps against terrorists operating from its territory, while at the same time returning its top diplomat to Islamabad amid an easing of tensions between the nuclear rivals.Pakistan announced earlier this week that its high commissioner to India was returning to New Delhi, weeks after the two countries recalled their top diplomats for consultations as tensions flared after suicide attack on a convoy of Indian paramilitary soldiers in Kashmir that killed 40 soldiers.
India blamed that attack on a Pakistan-based militant group, Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), and launched a retaliatory air strike inside Pakistan. Indian External Affairs Ministry spokesman Raveesh Kumar said that a reported Pakistani crackdown this week on seminaries, mosques and hospitals belonging to outlawed groups and arrest of dozens of people was not enough. He said Pakistan should take concrete steps “against terrorists and terror infrastructure” on its territory.
Kumar said a recent United Nations statement also called for “perpetrators, organisers, financiers and sponsors of terrorism to be held accountable and brought to justice.”He accused Pakistan of failing to take any credible action against JeM and other terrorist organisations, which he said continued to operate with impunity from Pakistan.“The widespread presence of terrorist camps in Pakistan is a public knowledge within and outside Pakistan,” he said.
Pakistan said it has arrested 44 people, including the brother of JeM chief Masood Azhar, who was apparently named in a dossier given to Islamabad by New Delhi. It also says shut a number of facilities and frozen assets of several outlawed organisations. Pakistan’s Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said on Saturday that his country was acting against the banned militant outfits and it would not allow anyone to “use the Pakistani land for terrorism against any country.”
He also said Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan had asked India to send evidence it has against anybody. “India hasn’t shared yet any actionable information and proof against anybody,” he added.Chaudhry also said Khan has invited India to take part in a joint investigation and negotiations, but there had been no response from the Indian side.
Blocking access to bombing site
Kumar said Islamabad had “plenty to hide” by preventing journalists from accessing the site of an air strike by Indian fighter jets inside Pakistan.
Citing “security concerns”, Pakistani security officials on Thursday barred a Reuters team from climbing a hill in northeastern Pakistan to the site of a madrassa, or religious school, and a group of surrounding buildings that was targeted by Indian warplanes last week. The fact that Pakistan has now refused access to journalists from visiting the site means that they have plenty to hide,” he told reporters. New Delhi’s retaliatory strike in Balakot last month, sent tensions spiralling. India said its air force hit a terrorist training camp and killed “a very large number” of militants. Pakistan said the strike only damaged three trees in a forest.
Islamabad responded by shooting down two Indian warplanes and capturing a pilot, who was later returned to India as a peace gesture. India said it lost only one aircraft.
Since then, the two sides have exercised restraint amid calls from the international community to avoid war.

بلاول بھٹو کی نواز شریف سے ملاقات پیر تک ملتوی

پیپلز پارٹی کےچیئرمین بلاول بھٹو زرداری کی سابق وزیراعظم نواز شریف
سے آج ہونے والی ملاقات پیر تک ملتوی کردی گئی ہے۔
پیپلز پارٹی ذرائع کے مطابق بلاول بھٹو آج وقت کی کمی کے باعث نواز شریف سے ملاقات نہیں کرسکیں گے۔
ذرائع کے مطابق بلاول اور نواز شریف کی ملاقات اب پیر 11 مارچ کو دوپہر 2 سے 4 بجے کے درمیان ہوگی۔
بلاول بھٹوکے ترجمان سینیٹر مصطفیٰ نواز کھوکھر نے بھی ملاقات کے شیڈول میں تبدیلی کی تصدیق کی اور کہا کہ پی پی چیئرمین پیر کو نواز شریف کی عیادت کے لئے کوٹ لکھپت جیل جائیں گے۔
انہوں نے کہا کہ بلاول بھٹو کی نواز شریف سے ملاقات کا مقصد سابق وزیراعظم کی مزاج پرسی ہے، پی پی چیئرمین نے حکومت کی طرف سے نواز شریف کو مطلوبہ طبی سہولیات فراہم نہ کرنے پر تشویش کا اظہار کیا ہے۔
اس سے قبل محکمہ داخلہ پنجاب نے بلاول بھٹو زرداری کو نواز شریف سے ملاقات کی اجازت دینے کا فیصلہ کیا تھا،انہوں نے آج شام ملاقات کرنا تھی،جو اب پیر تک ملتوی کردی گئی ہے۔
بلاول بھٹوزرداری نے نواز شریف سے ملاقات کی درخواست کی تھی جس پر پیپلزپارٹی نے محکمہ داخلہ پنجاب کو نواز شریف سے ملاقات کےلیےخط لکھا تھا۔
ترجمان وزیراعلی پنجاب کا کہنا تھا کہ بلاول کو قانونی طریقہ اختیار کرکے ملاقات کی اجازت مل سکتی ہے۔