A Faisalabad Field Visit Reflection
My time with Kaarvan has been full of firsts – my first stay outside of Lahore, my first time traveling via Daewoo bus, my first time in a village in Pakistan, and my first time trying pure gur. Aside from deeply expanding my Urdu vocabulary, my first field visit to the Faisalabad district brought about an unexpected problem which showed me the dynamism of development work and the Kaarvan team I was with.
During our last day in Faisalabad, we were holding a workshop with a focus group of participants in one of the participant’s sewing school. Halfway through our activity, a stout older man in a suit barged in, and was intimidating us and our group. He was throwing orders around and spent a long while questioning Bushra demanding she explain what we were doing and who gave us permission to be in this space. The participants were also being very subservient towards this man. I was quite confused as to what was going on. During this time that our activity was paused, Mashal took initiative to have the participants begin filling out our questionnaires in efforts to fulfill as much of our activity’s purpose as possible. This man eventually ended his fit and self-assumingly granted us permission to continue our group activity with the caveat that he stays in the room. Our activity is obviously focused on women, and this one in particular probed the challenges and stigmas these women face in their lives, so having a man, especially an authoritative gatekeeping male figure, was going to add a large confounder to the activity. We did continue the best we could.
Later, I was talking to Mashal about this problematic situation and she was telling me that this person did financially support these women to some capacity. Mashal mentioned how on top of everything, a person like this creates dependence for the woman — they can never truly be independent and have the opportunity to take their own self initiative. The presence of male figures who “permit” women to do things and whose authoritative behavior women themselves also entertain diminishes the reputation and respect of other institutions Kaarvan, and most of all the woman herself. This is when it really stuck me that the way Kaarvan works is not a welfare concept, it is an empowerment model. Welfare concepts are unsustainable – a person becomes dependent on a cash flow, and if this is done independently of skills training, then the person remains disadvantaged in terms of expanding their personal agency. Empowerment is sustainable; it equips a person with the tools they need to reach their next step, while establishing the understanding that any progress is contingent on one’s own level of effort.
Though this is a simplified explanation of one development theory, the message is clear: it is important to treat each person with dignity. This also means holding participants to the same standard we would hold ourselves, not giving them grace out of pity or assuming where their knowledge gaps lie. Everyone is capable of learning and using the tools they need to bring change in their own lives. Though continuing our activity with the man’s presence was a compromise. Not continuing would have only reinforced the authority people like him have in the lives of women. The way we establish our presence in wake of barriers is also paving the way for women’s empowerment more than any workshop could do.