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A Story of Zarina Charan

Sindh, Pakistan _  Zarina Charan was looking optimistic to live a full, secure life. The Pakistani lady from Nihal Charan Village was planning to grow grains and fodder crops instead of cash crops, rationalizing that buying food items from market might not be safe for her family’s consumption. The crops will be on her land. Yes, on her very own land.

In this part of the world where women’s rights is almost non-existent and land ownership only preserved for sons, a female land owner is so rare no matter how tiny the plot. Therefore, it was a huge surprise when she told us that she had 12 acres of land in her care.

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But with strong support from her father who wanted to see his only child have a fulfilling life, Zarina went to school and was encouraged to speak up and stand up for herself since her early years.

“My father placed all his hopes on me, took care of my life, my education and advised me about how to live bravely in this society which is male-dominated and women do not have powers to take decision,” she said.

Her ownership raised eyebrows of her male relatives as well as village fellows but Zarina said that was the least of her concern. “I told them clearly that respect must be mutual and I will respect them only if they respect me.”

Zarina credited education and her father’s encouragement since her childhood to be strong and fearless to make a decision. “For example, I decide which crop is suitable for my land and my children. I prefer to cultivate grains so that we have enough food for the whole year,” said the mother of four who has decided to separate form her husband of 12 years after unresolved family disputes. Zarina now lives with her children and her mother.

As the first village girl who passed her matriculation examination and landed the first job at National Commission for Human Development (NCHD), a government institution, in 2006, Zarina has become the role model for young girls and their parents who became convinced that they, too, could create a better life for their daughters.

The work not only allows her to support her family but also helps better the lives of rural women such as advocating for wage payment and helping set up a new hygiene practice in a community to clean up the community water source.

 

Bring life back a ghost town

Droughts and floods come separately to destroy life.

Dadu district is a gateway to drought and dryness in the districts’ mountainous and desert area, which depends on rain for cultivation and husbandry. The other parts of the district lies close to the River Indus and mountainous rainwater ways, which sometimes turn disastrous after receiving heavy rainfall.

Nihal Charan, once a flourishing village of more than 60 households, now has shrunken with only 15 households left to cultivate their families’ lands. Life’s hardships and lack of income had forced people to find work in cities.

There was no school in the village. Children had to travel a long distance to attend classes in neighboring villages. Worried about their children’s safety, the parents usually ended up taking them out of school.

But when Zarina Charan got her Master’s degree, these parents realized that change was possible.

Zarina_6-700x938Zarina’s career has turned her into a role model for families with daughters.  . She encourages women aged between 18 and 35 years to join a female producers organization she has set up to learn about essential things and knowledge they would have known had they had a chance to study. Here is a platform where these women could discuss their problems, find solutions, and learned why girl’s education is important. Zarina would lead the women on issues ranging from family matters with male members to their rights related to family land and property, and decision-making of family matters.

This had led to the success in the negotiation with the men who have eventually agreed to share the wages with their wives and let them have a say on farm works that affect the family’s well-being.

“It was a tradition that women helped pick cotton and chillis, cut onions and harvest paddy and wheat crops for the whole day. But they never thought that they were entitled to be paid too. It took a few months of discussion sessions and visits to their homes for them to realize their rights.

Zarina said the situation has improved drastically once the men began to understand the roles of women better. Now they listen to their wives’ suggestion on crop selection and cultivation and no longer keep all the wages to themselves.

 

Going Green

Another area that Zarina has been passionately campaigned for is organic farming.

For decades, Zarina and her family have avoided sowing genetically modified (GM) seeds and used their own collected seeds of wheat, cotton, paddy, chilli and grasses instead.

Danger of pesticides and chemical fertilizers are another common discussion topic here. “After a while, they started to understand that those chemicals are dangerous for them and the environment, wildlife, livestock and water resource.  As a result, a campaign in collaboration with local authorities to end dumping wastes into public waterways was born.

She noted that the women were more willing to take a risk while the men always tried to avoid that. She referred to the waste dumping case in which the organization and the women have pushed for local government’s corrective actions.

 

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Here, underground and surface water sources are not safe for drinking. It is a common issue for the people of rural and urban in the area. Even the government’s water supply system is not good enough and can pose a threat to human lives.

 Asked why her organization had so many successful projects, Zarina answered with a smile, “it’s because I have won their trust.”

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