Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Rehman Malik on Twitter - Is it a news worth reporting???

Across the world politicians use popular social networking sites such as facebook and twitter not only to mobilize people (particularly younger generation) but also to win their hearts and minds. It is very much normal considering the modern age's information and communication revolution and the advent of technology. Nevertheless, why is it such a surprise if Pakistani politicians, following footprints of their western counterparts, also join such social networking sites? Recently, Interior Minister Rehman Malik has joined twitter after the facebook ban in the country. Surprisingly, ‘Rehman Malik's Joining the Twitter bandwagon” is big news in Pakistan as both print and electronic media reporters have consumed their energies yesterday in reporting this unprecedented holy event. It is pertinent to note that all the news reports, highlighting Rehman Malik’s joining the twitter, point out the same thing such as : Why Rehman Malik joined twitter, how many people are following him at present, what sort of questions followers are asking from him and what replies our Interior Minister has furnished so far.

This news, first reported by Chris Allbritton of Reuter, was also filed by Pakistani journalists with the same vigor (and a little bit of editing as the contents remains more or less same as that of Chris Allbritton’s report). But this raises few questions:

  • Firstly, Rehman Malik Joining Twitter is really some news worth publishing particularly when there are hundreds of stories (worth publishing) being ignored by Pakistani media. For instance, there was no coverage of PC hotel workers strike in Karachi though it was actively covered by Pakistani bloggers like Dr. Awab Alvi. Similarly, there was no media coverage of Mai Jori Jamali’s election campaign, a peasant woman who contested bi-elections in Balochistan. Likewise, press conference of Dr Awab Alvi and other activists on facebook ban and consequent manhandling of Dr. Awab Alvi by angry mobsters (including some journalists) was also not covered by the media?? Why? Only because all (the cases which I mentioned above) were raising their voice against status quo?
  • Secondly, why media exert their energies on reporting on non-issues when there is a plethora of real issues? We have always been hearing by our politicians and development workers that media could play a role of a change agent because of its level of influence and reach to common people. In that regard, why women issues are given less coverage? Why corruption in society is not highlighted the way it should be?? Why gross human rights violations are never surfaced?? 
  • Thirdly, why media has such an ambiguous stand on certain issues, for instance facebook ban?? Is not this ban anti ‘freedom of speech’ and if yes then why media is not very vocal and express what is rational???
I don’t have any answer to these questions but I would request my readers to shed some light on questions, I underlined above, and enlighten me with their responses. Besides, if  you guys would like to read the news of Rehman Malik joining twitter and want to get amused then you can find it herehere and here….

Note: originally posted at 

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Women Employment in Public Sector in Pakistan

In Pakistan, the popular aphorism is that the concentration of women workforce is higher in education and health sectors compared to other sectors such as engineering, telecommunication etc.  Perhaps, women would be working more as teachers, doctors or nurses but at large, proportion of women working at administrative or decision-making posts in education and health departments also present a very dismal picture particularly when the government’s initiative of increasing women’s employment in public sector is concerned.

Women’s meagre participation in the public sector is not specific to one province or locality, but all provincial departments are by large male dominated. In one of the discussion fora in Karachi, I heard Mehtab Akbar Rashidi, former secretary culture, government of Sindh, saying that “out of 28 government departments in Karachi, only two women are working at the decision making level”. Experts quote gender stereo-typing as one main reason for the prevalent gender gap in government offices.

The recently accumulated statistics by the Ministry of Labor and Manpower confirm that a significant gender-gap exists in Pakistan’s public sector. At present, women constitute only 10.7% of the total workforce in the country and their proportion in public sector is even less than 2%.  Another study commissioned by the National Commission on the Status of Women reveals the absence of women from decision-making positions in the public sector. In lieu of the situation, NCSW had recommended the government to allocate a 50% quota for women in all public sector jobs. Nevertheless, NCSW’s recommendation has never been adopted by the government due to a lack of political will.

Later on, the Government of Pakistan, as a pre-condition of availing technical assistance from the Asian Development Bank, introduced the Gender Reform Action Plan with women employment in the public sector as being one of the key reform areas. As per the GRAP policy, the government aims to take measures at both pre and post induction stages in order to engender the entire induction process. Proposed with an intention to encourage more women to join public sector, these measures include:
“Establishment of career development centers for young female graduates; affirmative advertisement of public sector vacancies; reservation of employment quota for women in all public sector jobs; inclusion of at least one woman member on every selection or departmental promotion committee; appointing at least 3 women members on the Federal Services Commission and enforcement of code of ethics to protect women from sexual harassment at workplace and so on and so froth”.

The overall picture of achievements of policy measures to enhance women’s participation in the public sector is still very murky. Recent findings of a research study conducted by the Citizens Commission on Human Development highlights that the GRAP has not achieved its key policy objective of increasing women employment in public sector both at the federal and provincial levels. Instead of the proposed 25% quota a meagre 10% quota has been introduced through a directive from the Establishment Division at the federal level.  While in key departments women friendly infrastructure( rest rooms, toilets, day care centres) has either been up-graded or developed, where found missing.

In case of Punjab, career development centres in four public sector universities have been established and an internship program is underway too. Even though there is no scientific data available on the success of initiatives being taken, an ADB representative from Punjab opined that career development initiatives have no visible impact so far due to delays in implementation.  While in the remaining three provinces (Sindh, Balochistan and Pakhtoon Khawa) the progress is almost negligible due to multiple reasons such as lack of ownership, issues of capacities, inadequate planning and gender partial policy framework.

There is a realization among key government functionaries and parliamentarians about the slow progress in increasing the proportion of women employees in all government offices. For instance, Ms. Tauqir Fatima Bhutto, Minister of Women Development Sindh, in a public debate organized by the CCHD, pronounced that  

“Women development department had conducted an assessment of all departments to check whether women employees make-up at least 10% of total workforce and we find out that women were even less than 2%. The women development department has also apprised the Chief Minister time and again about the progress made so far. All departments have been  requested to send reports specifying percentage of women but the response is very luke- warm. We can not achieve our policy objective without full cooperation of all relevant departments”.

But this realization is not enough for bringing a transformation in our society. What is needed is a change of men’s mindset, who are responsible for policymaking in majority of cases. If this doesn’t happen, then GRAP and its accompanying set of reforms will be reminiscent of all previously envisaged policies, concerning women empowerment and equality, which were only words and no actions. Women rights activists believe that with a large number of women parliamentarians in national and provincial assemblies, this is the right time to make headways to mainstreaming gender in public institutions, process and policies. 

Monday, May 24, 2010

As I let myself sink

Walking on this never ending dark alley
Do I Know Where I am?
And where are you?

Weren’t you there a while ago?
Standing besides me, holding my hand
Smiling and crying
Promising me to never leave me alone
Or was it just a dream?

What am I doing in this dark alley?
Looking for those lost moments?
Searching for you, your smile and your promises
Drowning myself in my own tears
Where are you? I look again

I close my eyes
I see some light
And I saw you standing there
Saying good-bye
You turned around with apathy, Ah, and I saw you go

Don’t leave me, I hear myself crying
You did not hear that
You are too hurriedly walking away; yes away from me
Something breaks inside me with a bang
Something bleeds too
And I stand like a stone while you disappeared in the dark

Yes, it is dark inside too; I don’t know why
I open my eyes to find hope outside
Ah, I am in that purgatory dark lane again
Guarded by my own tears,  and my own sorrow
Numbness creeps inside me

I succumb myself to water 
Letting myself sink deep down there
Remembering (Ah, memory)
Once you said
“I am water and you are fire”,
I let myself sink in water
Because water is you…..

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

No Water Conservation Drive??

Today, on my way to the office, I had a short conversation with my office driver on hot weather in Lahore and the ‘brilliant’ coping strategy adopted by him for dealing with the heat waves during nights. The driver apprised me that at night he leaves a running water pipe in his room cooler so that water in the room cooler does not finish off in the middle of night. Surprised at his inane approach, I asked him that is not he contributing toward wasting our already ‘depleting’ water resources. My office driver gave an outstanding reply to me saying “No, water is available in abundance in Pakistan. I have installed a water boring machine and a big water storage tank in my house. Every day, I pump water through that boring machine in the water storage tank. The stored water is sufficient enough for my family even if I leave one tap running the whole night”. The bottom line of his message was:  My water tank is full and it belongs to me. I have the full authority to use it the way I want .Even I can leave one tap open at night for my own convenience and it is no wastage”.

Whether call this attitude ignorance or lack of civic responsibility but wasting water is widespread in Pakistan, a country which is declared as ‘water scarce’ in 2009 research conducted by the Woodrow Wilson Centre. In urban centers like Lahore, People would leave their taps running for hours in their houses, or they would wash their houses and streets everyday (though after washing streets they do not mind littering the streets with the same fervor, hence wasting not only water but also their own effort of cleaning the street) or they would wash their cars everyday for hours besides cursing the government for not providing them electricity for 24 hours everyday. Contrarily to this, in remote part of the country people do not get clean water to drink and there women have to cover a long distance to fetch water for drinking and other household uses. But do we know and do we care that water resources are not easily accessible to many Pakistanis.

But do they know that Pakistan has scarce water resources and the rapidly growing population of the country is further exhausting the limited water resources. Or that only 10% of available water resources have been allocated for consumption (for drinking and sanitation purposes) at the household level for the entire population of the country. Or that besides wastage of water by them, there are also system losses or leakages in municipal water supply system. Perhaps they also do not know about the very recent prediction by the Water and Development Authority that the per capita availability of water in Pakistan will further decrease from 1,038 cubic meters in 2010 to 809 cubic meters in 2025. Or that in wake of current water crisis, some responsibility also fall on their shoulders to discontinue old practices of wasting of water.

And why the common masses do not know all these facts? Because, our national media (both print and electronic) is busy in selling products ( beverages, shampoos etc) but its role in spreading awareness pertaining to water conservation to the general public is completely non-existent. Meanwhile, in developed countries such as Australia (which is also a water deficient country), electronic media (television) is actively engaged in spreading water conservation awareness (including recycling of rain water) to Australian population. Similarly, our government is also silent on this issue and same goes with the non-state actors or civil society organizations, whose efforts on promoting water conservation in the country are not very visible. In short, a collective approach for water conservation is altogether missing, which requires all stakeholders including policy-makers, civil society organizations, media and common people to strive toward one goal of using water rationally and responsibly.

Pakistan commemorates World Water Day every year; on this year’s water day, the participating organizations (government and non-government) vowed to raise awareness across the country on water conservation. But that pledge, like many more pledges, has not yet materialized in concrete actions.  Perhaps, government and non-government actors are waiting for the next year World Water Day to make the same pledge again of ‘awareness pertaining to water conservation’. 

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Gift in Kind : A case of 1 MillionShirts

For the past few days, many international aid workers were tweeting on Twitter about 1 MillionShirts. With an interest in ‘Aid Effectiveness’, I also re-tweeted whatever information I received from the people I follow on twitter. Like my fellow tweepls, my aim was to generate public awareness on effectiveness of ill-thought out gift-in-kind aid projects such as the 1 MillionShirts.

So what is this 1 MillionShirts? Well, a lot has already been written about this specific project by international aid workers which can be found here. But to update readers of this blog, let me provide you a succinct brief on 1 MillionShirts: A guy @iwearyourshirt aka Jason, with no prior experience or knowledge of international development work, one day , came up with the idea of helping poor people living in Africa. He assumed providing clothes to poor people is one of their urgent needs so he should collect used shirts along with US$ 1 (the shipment cost for single shirt) which later on will be sent to Africa for subsequent distribution to people in dire need of clothes. Considering it a novel idea, the guy also applied for registration of his organization as non-profit under 501C3 (simply to avoid taxes as his website suggests) in Colorado and initiated his campaign (on twitter) of collecting used shirts. He also entered into partnership with two relief organizations ‘H.E.L.P. International’ and ‘Water is life’. It is pertinent to note here that these afore mentioned organizations despite their experience of working in international development and relief work, agreed to 1 MillionShirts idea.

What went wrong here?? Well, the guy @iwearyourshirt aka Jason did not bother researching on internet about what sort of aid ideas are worth doing and what sort of aid ( in-kind or cash) would foster what kind of positive or negative impact.

What went well here? A quick response from international aid workers was surfaced, thanks to the advent of technology and internet due to which, these days, information travels as faster and quicker as the speed of light. Some of the development workers (@texasinafrica; @TalesFromthHood; @saundra_s; @Katrinskaya;@Michael_Keizer; @morealitude; @tmsruge; @alanna_shaikh; @meowtree;@IdealistNYC) learnt about this shirt idea and hence a debate began about the issue. International aid workers not only criticize 1 MillionShirts idea but they also furnished some recommendations. And what did they discuss: 1 MillionShirts idea is bad.

And why did international aid worker think it was a bad idea to send 1 millionshirts to Africa. Aid workers furnished a number of reasons: Firstly, according to them providing clothing to needy people in Africa or elsewhere is a noble act but it is not one of the urgent or immediate needs (such as medicine, food etc) that are to be met in the short run. Secondly, Africa has cloth manufacturers and if somebody is that interested in providing clothing to Africans then those clothes which are produced in local markets should be procured rather than the second hand imported clothes. From experience of international development workers, one thing is evident that such a supply of second hand cloths is definitely going to affect the African cloth manufacturers, this has already happened in case of Zambia in 1991(discussed here in detail). Thirdly, there are huge logistics / shipping costs involved which can be avoided if aid commodities are procured locally.

Is 1 MillionShirts idea really that bad? The criticism of development workers is to the point and timely. I will add some thing from my experience of volunteering for October 8 Earthquake in Pakistan, because it somehow relates to this 1 Million Shirts idea. I tell you, many voluntary groups had appealed to people of Pakistan to donate clothes for earthquake victims. People responded generously to the request of voluntary groups and even they had donated their ‘wedding clothes’ which were completely unfit in severe cold weather, hence, majority of such clothes were dumped in heaps despite the fact some shipping cost also incurred on them.

Then question arises, if gift in kind ( such as clothes, shoes etc) are not the right kind of donation then what people can give to help the needy people living in their own country or in some other country. The answer to that question is ‘cash’ because development workers normally conducts need assessments after every disaster (it had happened in case of October 8 Earthquake in Pakistan) and prioritize the needs requiring immediate attention. If donations are given in ‘cash’ rather than in kind than it not only makes the work of development/relief workers much easier but it also contributes in addressing the immediate needs.

Getting back to 1 MillionShirts Idea, when I first heard about this, the first thing which came to my mind was the Paris Declaration on ‘Aid’s Effectiveness’ and I thought since USA is one of the party of the Paris Declaration and the Accra Agenda for Action, then perhaps there would be a proper channel in the USA to streamline or keep a check on private aid flows of non-profits such as 1 MillionShirts. I raised the same question here and got a response from @saundra_s, who is trying to create awareness on ‘donor education and impact of aid’. According to @saundra_s, registering as a non-profit is quite an easy task in the USA; it’s not obligatory on non-profits to follow good aid practices and standards, principles or practices imposed on non-profits are voluntary”.

Now this is another dimension of how bad aid ideas are usually generated [kindly note that 1 MillionShirts is not the first project of this nature, there have been other such as projects as sole for souls]. Should it be mandatory on non-profits to follow certain procedures, practices or standards while planning their projects, then perhaps ideas such as 1 MillionShirts would have been tackled from the very beginning. This reflects the need for more rigorous regulations on non-profits in the USA in order to contribute toward effectiveness of aid and fulfilling the commitment made under Accra Agenda for Action. It also requires educating donors (people who give donations) about in-kind or cash aid and its impact, something which @saundra_s and many other international aid workers are advocating for.