Shawl, quilt and sweater distribution. Credit: Jane Beesley
Women in Pakistan earned money making shawls for Oxfam's winterization kits

Women in Pakistan: "I felt the power of my money!"

After the flood which washed away homes, possessions, and livelihoods one of Oxfam’s first interventions in Swat was to distribute cash. While men could be involved in Oxfam's Cash for Work programs, like road building and cleaning of irrigation channels and drains, it was culturally unacceptable for women to do the same.

In September we visited women in the small village of Jarray who had just started to make shawls as part of the Cash for Work and winterization programs. Two months later, we asked them what they had spent their money on and what they thought about the program.

Sadar Jehan

Pakistani Rupee notes
Sadar had never been to a bank before.

Since you were last here in September we are a bit more relaxed. From the money we earned through Cash for Work we bought food and clothes for our children and paid doctors bills.

After I received the check I went to the bank in Fatipur. I gave them the check and they gave me the cash.

I’d never been to a bank before and I was afraid but when I got there I asked the security guard what to do and he showed me where to go. I felt very happy when I got the money. As soon as I got it I started thinking about how I was going to spend it!

I have five children; one girl and four boys. The eldest is twenty, he’s in Karachi, and the youngest is seven. First I got 5,600 Rupees (about US$65) for making two shawls; then a month later I got another 5,600 Rupees for making two more shawls. I spent most of the money on food.

Before the flood I used to earn some money tailoring. I would get 60-70 Rupees per suit (for women) and I could make two suits per day, but that was when we had electricity. Now there is no electricity in the village so I can only make one suit a day.

Haya Begum

"The program also kept us busy and we forgot our worries," says Salma.

We are very happy with the Cash for Work program. Now we are in the habit! We would like to earn it again because we have no other opportunities and we need to earn more money. I used the money to pay school fees and to buy a school sweater. I have four children.

Who decided how the money was spent?

I was the decision maker! It was the first time. My husband is out of the country so my children are depending on me. It made me feel that I was in power. I felt that because I earned the money I was the person to spend the money. I had that right and no one could ask me about how I spent it. I felt the power of my money and I was not answerable to anyone else! With my husband’s money I have to account for everything I spend.


Girl with shawl
Children at the Maskan Institute for girls have received shawls and sweaters.

I was very, very happy with this program because I could stay inside my house and earn money for my children. I have four children. My husband is unemployed.

I made the decision about how to spend the money because I earned it. My husband didn’t challenge any of my decisions. I paid off a loan of 5,000 Rupees, which we’d had due to some medical treatment. One of the children had a chest infection and I’d taken out a loan for the delivery of my baby.

The program was also good because it kept us busy and we forgot our worries. We can only work inside our homes because we have no education. There were no opportunities but this meant we could do something to meet our children’s needs when before we couldn’t.

How is your situation now?

We are upset and worried about how we are going to earn a living. Our land and houses have been washed away. We don’t know how we’re going to get our lives back. I don’t think we will fully recover in our lifetime. Maybe it will happen during our children’s lives not ours. I feel like this because we have no resources and our lands have been washed away. We have no solid money and many people are in the same situation. Maybe our children will get an education and will be able to earn money and that’s why we will do whatever we can for our children’s education. It will be a physical struggle, but then maybe our situation will change.

Oxfam’s Cash for Work program involved 807 women making shawls, quilts or knitting jumpers. Each woman made 4 items. They produced 390 quilts, 400 shawls and 1,860 sweaters. These were distributed to 482 people as part of Oxfam’s winterization kits.

Read more

Slideshow: Sewing quilts for Oxfam's winterization kits

Pakistan: Supporting women after the floods