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Women handicapped by commercialism

Aisha, 40, a poverty-stricken fisherwoman, is among many who are fighting inflation by adopting alternate means of earning. Sitting on a tattered mat in an open courtyard near the seashore, Aisha can be found busy weaving prayer mats.

Hundreds of fisherwomen, who were traditionally engaged in net manufacturing, supply of water to boats and going to the open sea for drying fish at isolated islands long ago, are now jobless due to the introduction of commercialism in the fishing sector. Now, not many of the community women have skills other than fishing, which has left them helpless when it comes to the survival of their families.

Making mats and other items is now the main pastime of the fisherwomen living at the 350-kilometre-long Sindh coast from Keti Bunder to Karachi. They make mats, prayer mats, brooms, baskets, plates for meals and other decorative items from vegetation and sell them to the neighbouring localities. Some women have found jobs in the city’s posh neighbourhoods and go there daily while others work in nearby garment factories, as helpers for packing. Several experienced fisherwomen, now run their own shops and tea stalls at their residences, especially in the Ibrahim Hyderi and Rehri villages.

Born in a fishing village near the Keti Bunder, Thatta district, Aisha is presently residing in the fishermen locality Dabla, Bin Qasim Town. She has learnt mat-making from her mother and mother-in-law. She can also make rallis with tattered rags and old clothes and is capable of embroidery work at her make-shift home. Aisha earns little through this and uses the money for her family affairs.

Rasti Dablo, an old fisherwoman, while talking about making rallis, says that earlier they stitched tattered rags to prepare the covers of razai (cotton-stuffed blankets) by using the matching colourful rags for ralli. However, now they do not have more old clothes to use for the purpose, as the acute poverty has forced them to continue wearing old clothes.

Minor children with half-wet clothes can be seen playing in filth, sea-mud and picking crabs from mangroves near their homes, while the women remain busy from sunrise to sunset in the locality. The young girls of the community are less interested in the skill; therefore, passing this particular expertise on to the new generation may prove difficult. However, the old fisherwomen fear that this talent may die sooner or later in these coastal localities.

Besides this the fisherwomen usually help their men with their catch. Along with the cooking meals, washing clothes and taking care of children and domestic animals, they also supply water to boats, load ration and repair fishing nets in their courtyards.

Fishermen in these poorly established localities build their makeshift homes themselves. They collect timber from mangroves and their women prepare mats for cover. They renew their makeshift homes once a year. They mostly use mats and waste plastic sheets as roofs, which need to be changed every year because of the rains and the scorching heat. Now the trend of building makeshift homes through mats and timber seems to be declining, however, the poor people do not have any other options.

The skilled females mostly take orders with size from neighbouring people to make floor mats and roof sheets. They buy leaves from Rehri village, where sellers bring it from Keti Bunder, Garho, Sakro and other coastal towns in Thatta district. These vegetations grow on water canals near the coastal areas and people use it for the purpose.

Local people sell a single bundle of vegetation to traders at Rs150 and they (traders) sell the same at Rs200 to Rs500 each in Karachi and other towns. While the fisherwomen, living in Thatta coastal areas, buy a bundle of the same vegetation at Rs80-Rs90 each.

A single woman can prepare one or two mats daily but it is up to the demand of customers. If a woman remains busy at home for taking care of children and performing domestic work, are unable to produce the same amount.

Rasti says that they also work jointly, making more mats daily and earn sufficient amount. Fishermen use the same mats for sitting at the seashore and as floor covering for their boats and landing sites near their localities.

Some mats they use for roofs and others for floor. Its guarantee is one to two years. Again it is up to its usage and protection, because scorching heat and rains can damage it. Small mat they sell for up to Rs60-Rs70 each while the cost of the larger ones depends on the size.

Residents of Dabla village, which comprises mainly makeshift homes, do not enjoy basic facilities like potable water, gas and electricity. Hardly few people have electricity connections and illuminate their shelters while others use kerosene oil lamps. Otherwise, they spend starry nights and moonlights in their open courtyards.

Middlemen have their own interests, who exploit these illiterate women. Hence, they have yet to find an attractive market to sell their hand-made products to earn more.

Recalling the blissful days of the past they spent in the Indus Deltaic region, these women reminisce about it as it was a good time. Prosperity was every where. People were happy, as there were more fish stocks in the sea and the fishermen used to return with more catch. However, now there is no more fish and the males have to take the risk of going to open sea for a catch. However, neither are these illiterate families fully aware about the labour laws and government subsidies nor have they ever claimed their rights. They are satisfied with what little allows them to survive.

The seashore village residents have become familiar with high tides and low tides. Despite being vulnerable to sea storms and disasters they never pay heed to government calls for migrating to safer places in emergencies during the monsoons and possible cyclone threats.
Source: The News