FINANCIAL dependency, by definition, implies a secondary status. For even educated women in patriarchal societies, such dependency reinforces their inferior standing. A fresh approach to royalty distribution in Chitral has the potential, if properly executed, to elevate local women’s status considerably by putting more financial resources in their hands. Women living in villages that flank the forests in southern Chitral will for the first time start receiving a share in the royalty paid by the government to local residents every five years from the sale of forest timber. Until now, the royalty was placed at the disposal of joint forest management committees, from where funds were often misappropriated, all to the benefit of a few influential individuals. Needless to say, women were sidelined. As per the district administration however, forest royalty will now be disbursed equally among the residents who have landed property in the area, with women listed among the list of beneficiaries. Their share will be paid to them directly.
Changing the skewed social dynamic in a conservative society requires foresight and determination. Chitral is known as a part of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa where women have long been more empowered than elsewhere in the province. Literacy levels — always high in a district where education has been a priority — are almost the same for men and women. However, in areas where the forests are plentiful and the land for agriculture limited, the population is economically disadvantaged and women have fewer opportunities for gainful employment. The decision to proactively include them as beneficiaries in the royalty disbursement system is a commendable one. Meanwhile, certain other parts of KP would do well to take a leaf out of Chitral’s book where it comes to treating women as equal citizens. During every election, one hears of constituencies in the province where women are barred from voting, simply because regressive elements cannot countenance them as being anything other than a voiceless appendage of men. Their misogyny is a foil to Chitral’s approach.
Published in Dawn, February 18th, 2018