The outbreak of coronavirus has brought forth unpredictability and stark realities. The economy has halted and there is widespread food shortage. This has highlighted the polarities of urban and rural communities — of privilege of mobility, access to resources and the power to purchase.

In such times, the state is on the frontline to lead the country and contain the pandemic. At the same time, society has a role to respect and honour the measures put forward by the state, but people continue to leave homes on one pretext or the other — grocery, visiting a relative, parks for exercise.

One would expect such behaviour from the rural areas. After all, the assumption is that the masses by and large are mere jaahils. The truth couldn’t be more to the contrary.

Non-profit organisations have stepped up in this time and mobilised the rural communities. One such organisation is Kaarvan Crafts Foundation that has actively been working with rural communities in 22 districts of Punjab since 2014. It has mobilised 25,000 rural women across Pakistan to economically empower them, making them not just financially independent, but also eventually become decision makers in their communities.

It’s time we revisualise the image of the rural women from being downtrodden, helpless creatures worthy of pity and sympathy to one of resilience, courage and compassion. It is incorrect to generalise that a rural woman’s compliance is her weakness. Underneath the passivity lies the iron will to make progress, a desire to do well by her and her family and a keen interest in developing new skills that can help her achieve her dreams.

What is most striking is the creative streak – almost every rural household has a female member who can stitch, sew and embroider. These are basic skills, but they enable them to earn a living and become a home-based worker. And it is during the ongoing pandemic that the rural artisans have upped the level and become community role models.

Keeping in line with the community spirit, artisans from all over have emerged with a message of awareness, and creative forms of disinfectants. It is heartening to see rural women from Sialkot, Nankana Sahib, Bahawalpur, Multan, Abbottabad and many other areas emerge as leaders in their respective areas in raising awareness about the pandemic, how to stay safe and maintain hygiene levels.

One of the many heartening stories is of Falmina Samoon, who realising that not everyone can have access to disinfectants, offered a solution using water and a domestic pressure cooker. Speaking about her efforts on ground, Falmina said: “I have guided the women of my group about staying safe from coronavirus. I have told them to be careful for themselves and their children, that they must wear a mask if they have to go out, wash their hands and not leave home unnecessarily.”

Munaza Hayat, the founder of the brand Kimmy’s, also felt that in this time of need she had to contribute to the well-being of her fellow citizens. She ended up stitching face masks, protective headgear and clothing.

The underlying spirit in all these women is a need for action – one that goes beyond asking for financial help or relief. Naseem Saeed, another micro-entrepreneur based in Multan, takes a wiser view, saying: “There is no difference between any of us, on any basis be it caste, religion or faith. In this difficult time, we are all standing united and fighting together.”

There is also the recognition that in this hour of need, it is no longer about finding the next meal, but effectively working together to contain the disease and prevent contamination for a greater good – life. One can only wonder then why the term ‘civil society’ does not expand to include these socio-economic groups and instead they are labelled as ‘masses’?

Perhaps now is the time to do so, as all socio-economic barriers collapse, and we all stand united in battling a virus that has shown exactly how hollow our lives were. If anything, the real leaders are our women, our rural women who have acknowledged and offered solutions in the regions that urban centres had all but forgotten, the people who till lands from which our bread comes.

Published in Dawn, May 2nd, 2020

Opinion

Editorial

The Musharraf enigma
Updated 06 Feb, 2023

The Musharraf enigma

The Musharraf era holds numerous lessons for Pakistan’s ruling elite, civilian and military.
Staying neutral
06 Feb, 2023

Staying neutral

THE Election Commission of Pakistan has what is perhaps one of the most thankless jobs in the country. The countless...
Wikipedia ban
06 Feb, 2023

Wikipedia ban

THE country was back in a familiar, dark place last week when the PTA blocked Wikipedia over the charge that it...
IMF’s firm stance
Updated 05 Feb, 2023

IMF’s firm stance

Pakistan needs to complete the review to stave off a default as well as to unlock inflows from other multilateral and bilateral lenders.
Grotesque bigotry
05 Feb, 2023

Grotesque bigotry

FREEDOM to profess one’s faith is guaranteed by the Constitution of Pakistan. However, for the country’s Ahmadi...
Kashmir reflections
05 Feb, 2023

Kashmir reflections

ASIDE from Kashmir Day, which the nation is observing today as an official holiday, there are a number of other days...