Share, care and get aware: transformation starts when we challenge norms


In Pakistan, women-inclusive WASH Jirgas (IWJs) are ensuring that women are finally part of the decision-making process about their WASH needs and proving valuable mobilisers within their communities.


“Before becoming part of the women IWJ, we used to think someone else will do the needful – we kept passing on the responsibility,” says Laila* Bibi. “Now we know that sweeping just our own houses is not enough, as keeping the entire village clean is our collective responsibility.”


Day-to-day life in Pakistan is guided by Pakhtunwali.


Pakhtunwali (means the traditional lifestyle of Pakhtuns) is the code of life for Pakhtuns and it regulates all the domains of the Pakhtuns society. Pakhtunwali is a mixture of different social traditions, ethics and moral values which are transferred from generation to generation and ultimately became an ‘unwritten constitution’ of the Pakhtun people, and is to be adhered to by all the Pakhtuns.


The word wali is a suffix, denoting behaviour and attitude. Hence Pakhtunwali means Pakhtun’s behaviour with one another.


Under the Pakhtun culture, Jirga is a traditional assembly of community elders or leaders that make decisions by consensus or a Jirga is a gathering of elders, convened by an intermediary (Jirgamaar) between contesting parties, to hear the arguments of the parties. Jirga is a suitable mechanism for conflict resolution and reconciliation in this post-conflict transformation phase, primarily because it reflects pre-existing social norms and is an expression of Pakhtun society.


Conventionally, Jirga is a male-oriented body and all decisions – even those regarding women – are taken in the Jirga by men.


But transformation starts when we challenge norms. With the commencement of the LIFE project in a Pakhtun-dominated area of Pakistan, the traditional approach at the community level was discussed in the context of improvement of women decision-making around WASH.


Forming women-Inclusive WASH Jirgas is a transformative and innovative approach in itself and it was quite challenging when teams on the ground spoke of forming women Jirgas.


In many villages, LIFE teams faced a lot of resistance, not only from men but surprisingly from women as well. Usually in these remote areas, women are typically accustomed to having their decisions taken by men. Very few women chose to join the IWJ.


There was also resistance from men who felt this concept to be a threat to their power. However, the teams also successfully identified men who considered women IWJs to be a positive development. Through community mobilisation, these men were not only ready to accept women IWJs but actually went out of their way to support them.

Without the positive engagement of men it was not possible to create this transformation, but now, where the LIFE program is operating, the number of women involved in IWJs is almost equal to men.


So what has this change resulted in over time?


Women-inclusive Jirgas are transforming the gender attitudes that have long-prevailed in the communities and this is empowering women in their decision-making. Greater contribution from women who know their WASH needs best is strengthening Jirgas and their decision making and action taking capacity with each passing day.


The women IWJ in Tapoo Koroona village singlehandedly convinced the community to come together and clean the drains running through the village – this meant that project has contributed to building women IWJs capacity to effectively mobilise communities, respond to their needs and take corrective actions. 


Teams have observed how greater engagement in the process is resulting in good hygiene practices being adopted by women at personal and domestic level. Through a collective, women-inclusive effort, latrines have been installed within their households, concerns were able to be raised when hand pumps were installed in communities and through consultation pumps have now been installed. 


The women IWJs are also working as a support group to other women and girls, enhancing much-needed social networking among them and providing a platform where they share, care and get aware on WASH as well.


Membership encompasses a diverse mix women of differing religion, gender, age as well as women with disabilities, and all voices are equally heard within the setup. In Tapoo Koroona village Sundus* Bibi who has hearing and speech impairment is also part of Jirga and the women ensure that one member translates the points discussed for her in sign language. Sundus Bibi says that joining the Jirga has helped her ‘know the best hygiene practices to take care of her young children, who are now healthier owing to the cleanliness in the community.’


The Gender Transformative Approach seeks to go beyond addressing immediate practical needs and unequal access to resources particularly of women, girls, and disadvantaged population groups. Gender transformative approaches actively and intentionally strive to challenge power over, power imbalance, and deeply entrenched inequalities. The transformative agenda of this Water for Women project is bringing equitable WASH (for all) Services for the marginalised groups by adhering to the “leaving no one behind” principle above all and by adopting innovative approaches within the context of Pakistan.


*Names have been changed to protect privacy

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