In Pakistan’s largest city, women are bound by a common misery: no public toilets

In this file photograph, taken on November 7, 2020, a man rides a motorcycle past a public toilet for men and women at Lea Market in Karachi. (REUTERS/File)
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Updated 29 May 2024
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In Pakistan’s largest city, women are bound by a common misery: no public toilets

  • Public toilets are a rare sight in Karachi, city of 20.3 million, which activists say severely impacts women’s mobility, safety
  • Sindh High Court this month ordered local authorities to construct bathrooms in markets, parks, hospitals, other public places

KARACHI: For the past eight years, Mariam Hassan’s biggest concern while out doing her work as a TV health reporter in Karachi has been to limit her water intake lest she has to use the toilet.
Hassan’s problem speaks to one of Pakistan’s most serious public health concerns: public toilets. World Bank data shows 79 million people in the country do not have access to a proper toilet while a recent UNICEF study says 25 million people still practice open defecation.
The lack of toilets for public use is not just a matter of public health but also about safety, women’s rights and human dignity, rights advocates and urban planners say. Indeed, the problem is especially difficult for women, who are not allowed to use the same toilet facilities as men in the conservative Muslim country.
“There is no place available for women and the places that are available are so dirty that you can’t even imagine going there,” Hassan told Arab News, echoing the sentiment of dozens of women interviewed on the subject this week in Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city and home to over 20 million people.
She recounted an instance in 2018 when she worked tirelessly from 7am until 10 at night covering a protest in the city’s Azizabad area without being able to find a single public restroom in the surroundings.
“At last our cameraperson took me to his relative’s house which was quite embarrassing as you’re going to a stranger’s house just to use the restroom,” Hassan said.
The Sindh High Court, troubled by how many Pakistanis don’t have access to public toilets in the country’s commercial hub, has ordered the government to build new facilities and do maintenance work on existing ones. During the proceedings of the case earlier this month, it was revealed that none of the 182 graveyards, 33 prominent markets, 42 roads, 970 bus stops and 133 hospitals in the city has public toilets on their premises.
Asked about the issue, Karachi Mayor Murtaza Wahab Siddiqui, whose Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) has been ruling the Sindh province since 2008, acknowledged that access to toilets was an issue that had not received due attention in the provincial capital.
“Whether they are public parks, public spaces, buildings or shopping malls, these washrooms were part of the original plan,” he told Arab News. “And as an end result, today, it is evident that this basic necessity is not available to the public the way it should be in public areas.
“The existing toilets and washrooms that have either been encroached upon or converted [into other structures], we will speak to the relevant building associations through the Sindh Building Control Authority so that those washrooms can be reactivated to ensure that people have access to this basic necessity.”
Siddiqui said even before the high court’s ruling, steps had been taken by the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (KMC) to refurbish old toilets in the city’s zoo and two parks and there were plans to construct washrooms along Karachi’s main thoroughfares and redo washrooms in shopping areas that had fallen into disrepair or been turned into shops or other facilities.
MOBILITY
Rights activists say public toilets are essential infrastructure for cities to guarantee citizens’ right to sanitation and their comfort to circulate in public spaces. In Karachi, the lack of public toilets has particularly impeded women’s ability to go about their daily business, whether as working women out in the field and traveling to jobs or housewives out for shopping or other errands.
“Women also need to travel, women can also go to the market, do shopping, and go to their jobs,” Muhammad Toheed, an urban planner and geographer, said. “Whether women are going on a trip or going to the market, they should mentally prepare themselves that they may not find a restroom facility along the way.”
Javed Ahmed, a city dweller in his 60s, reminisced about a time around three decades ago when the city used to have public toilets but said they had gradually disappeared due to a lack of maintenance and “societal conduct.”
“Later on, perhaps they also introduced mobile toilets. I have seen those vehicles that used to roam around, but they have vanished also,” he said, adding that people from the working classes, especially laborers and rickshaw and taxi drivers, and women, gravely required access to restrooms in public spaces.
“Throughout the city, if I may say, public toilets are nowhere to be seen, and if they are present somewhere, half of them are locked or closed,” Summaiya Khursheed, a working professional, said as she shopped at a local market.
“Just like water and food are your basic necessities, toilets are also among your basic needs. Entire markets have been built for women, but it’s not considered that toilets are also a basic necessity for women.”
Housewife Uzma Hassan outlined the steps women had to take before leaving home, knowing they would not be able to find usable toilets.
“It’s stressful that we have to do it before leaving. We mentally prepare ourselves before leaving, thinking that there won’t be any toilets available. [We worry about] what we would have to do and what not to do, and we shop hurriedly so we may get free quickly to go back home,” she told Arab News.
“There are so many markets open in Karachi, with all kinds of people living here but there should be toilets in these markets and parks. The Sindh government should think about this because it is a very big issue, especially for women.”


Pakistan’s benchmark index posts nearly 100% growth in a year, hits 80,000 barrier

Updated 54 min 7 sec ago
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Pakistan’s benchmark index posts nearly 100% growth in a year, hits 80,000 barrier

  • Benchmark KSE 100 index hits all-time high at 80,059.87 level during intraday trading
  • Analysts say surge due to investors’ optimism about Pakistan securing another IMF loan

KARACHI: Pakistan’s key stock index hit an all-time high of 80,000 points on Friday, with data showing the benchmark index posted a growth of nearly 100 percent in a year, as analysts attributed the recent surge to optimistic investors confident Islamabad will extract another bailout package from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
The benchmark KSE 100 index crossed the key psychological barrier of 80,000 points to hit an all-time high of 80,059.87 points. This is an almost 100 percent increase recorded in the benchmark index since June 21, 2023.
However, following the profit-taking at higher levels— a situation where buyers sell shares at higher prices to gain maximum profit— the index dropped to 78,169 points during trading and closed at 78,810.49 points.
The index figure at the close shows that the benchmark has posted a growth of 96 percent in a year, according to the Pakistan Stock Exchange’s (PSX) data.
“Positive sentiments, led by a tax-laden budget which investors feel will help in getting IMF’s long-term loan, have tossed the index above the 80,000 level which was 40,000 a year back,” Muhammad Sohail, CEO of Topline Securities, told Arab News.
Pakistan’s Finance Minister Muhammad Aurangzeb presented the $67.76 billion federal budget for the fiscal year 2024-25 in parliament on June 12. Analysts expect the budget will play a pivotal role in Pakistan’s negotiations with the IMF to unlock yet another loan from the international lender.
Islamabad has set an ambitious tax revenue generation target of about Rs13 trillion ($46.55 billion) for the year fiscal year 2025 in the budget. The tax collection target has been increased more than 40 percent from the target for the current fiscal year, which ends on June 30.
Pakistan equity investors also celebrated the government’s move to refrain from an anticipated increase in capital gains tax (CGT) and tax on dividend income. In addition, the taxes imposed on the real estate sector will also make the stock market an attractive destination for investment, analysts said.
“Before the budget, there was a rumor in the Pakistan stock market that capital gains tax and tax on dividends is going to be increased,” Shehryar Butt, portfolio manager at Darson Securities said. “But after the budget, those taxes were not imposed. That was positive for the market.”
Butt said the budget presented by the incumbent government seemed to be as per the IMF’s directions and expectations. 
“It is very likely that Pakistan will get a longer program of IMF after presentation of the budget and it has also been marked by international rating agencies including Fitch,” Butt noted, adding that global financial institutions are optimistic about Pakistan achieving its revenue collection target.
Analysts hope the stock market will continue to perform strongly and the KSE 100 index will add another 10,000 points in the coming days.
“Factors that would support the bullish sentiments at the stock market in coming days include inflation and the monetary policy easing,” Tahir Abbas, head of research at Arif Habib Limited, said.
Abbas said average annual inflation is expected to be around 12-12.5 percent while interest rates are expected to decline from the current 20.5 percent figure to around 16 percent in a year.
“Based on these factors we expect that the KSE 100 index would hover around the 88,000 level by the end current year,” he said.


Punjab bans public gatherings for 7 days as ex-PM Khan’s party calls for protests

Updated 32 min 4 sec ago
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Punjab bans public gatherings for 7 days as ex-PM Khan’s party calls for protests

  • Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party called for nationwide protests on Friday to demand his release from prison
  • Punjab government imposes ban on public gatherings, rallies, protests, sit-ins and demonstrations for seven days

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s Punjab government imposed a ban on all kinds of public gatherings throughout the province on Friday after jailed former prime minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party called for nationwide protests to demand his release.
In a video statement earlier this week, PTI leader and former National Assembly speaker Asad Qaiser urged Khan supporters to come out on the streets across the nation on Friday to demand Khan’s release from prison.
The former prime minister has been in jail since August 2023 after he was convicted by a local court on corruption charges. Khan denies the allegations, saying they are politically motivated to keep him and the PTI away from Pakistani politics.
“It has been observed that in view of the prevailing law and order situation and security threats, any gathering/ assembly is likely to provide soft targets to terrorists and miscreants,” a notification issued by the Punjab Home Department said.
“Which not only pose serious security threats but is also likely to cause threat to public at peace and order as well as inconvenience to public at large.”
The notification said the government was imposing Section 144, which empowers the administration to ban any activity in the general interest of the public for a specific time period, across Punjab for a period of seven days.
The notification said assemblies, gatherings, sit-ins, rallies, processions, demonstrations, protests and other such activities have been prohibited across the province effective immediately.
PTI leader Raoof Hasan criticized Punjab government’s “shameful” decision in a post on social media platform X.
“It reflects how mortified they are of the person of @ImranKhanPTI & his vision of an independent & sovereign Pakistan where its people would become the true arbiters of their fate,” Hasan wrote.
Khan’s tensions with the government and Pakistan’s powerful military came to a head on May 9 2023 when angry supporters took to the streets and attacked government and military installations following his brief detention in a land corruption case.
The move sparked a nationwide crackdown launched by the government against Khan’s party which saw several PTI leaders and supporters rounded up in jails. Many Khan aides announced parting ways with him following the crackdown on his party. Pakistan’s military announced it would try those involved in the May 9 violence in military courts.
Khan initially said the protests were a natural reaction by his supporters but later distanced himself from it, blaming Pakistan’s intelligence agencies for instigating the riots. Pakistan’s military and government rubbished his allegations.


Senior Chinese official says Pakistan’s security challenges undermining investor confidence

Updated 21 June 2024
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Senior Chinese official says Pakistan’s security challenges undermining investor confidence

  • Liu Jianchao raises concern over the issue after several Chinese workers were targeted by militants in the country
  • The Chinese official also asks political parties to work together and deal with complex challenges facing Pakistan

ISLAMABAD: A senior Chinese official on Friday identified Pakistan’s internal security deficit as a major challenge undermining investor confidence while addressing the 3rd Meeting of the Pakistan-China Joint Consultative Mechanism (JCM), which brought together representatives of all major Pakistani political parties.
Liu Jianchao, a prominent Chinese political figure, serves as the Minister of the International Liaison Department of the Communist Party of China, a key position that involves managing relationships with various political organizations around the world.
He arrived in Pakistan on Thursday night to co-chair the JCM meeting, focusing on the progress and future direction of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).
Liu voiced concern over Pakistan’s internal security situation, as militant groups in the region have targeted Chinese nationals working on various CPEC projects around the country in recent years.
“We need to improve security and the business environment,” he said while addressing the forum. “Security threats are the main hazards to CPEC cooperation. As people often say, confidence is more precious than gold. In case of Pakistan, the primary factor shaking the confidence of Chinese investors is the security situation.”
“Without security, the business environment cannot really improve,” he continued, adding this may undermine development in the longer run.

Pakistan's Deputy Prime Minister Ishaq Dar (right) meets a senior Chinese Communist Party leader Liu Jianchao in Islamabad, Pakistan on June 21, 2024. (@ForeignOfficePk/X)

Earlier, Pakistan’s Deputy Prime Minister Ishaq Dar told the meeting the CPEC enjoyed full political support in his country while members of several rival political factions sat around the conference table.
However, the Chinese official also urged Pakistani politicians to work together to deal with the complex challenges facing the country.
“In the turbulent world of rising uncertainties, stability within a country is essential for the development of that country,” he noted. “Faced with complex internal and external challenges, Pakistan is navigating carefully the turbulent rivers and treacherous shores. Only when all political parties in a country join hands to ensure political and social stability can there be sustainable development.”
Liu also mentioned the “Western social media,” saying it had a huge impact on younger generation and was eroding the foundations of China-Pakistan friendship.
He pointed out the strategic nature of relationship between the two countries had yet to translate into mutual understanding and affinity between their people, emphasizing exchange programs on multiple levels to foster greater friendship.
The Chinese official said his country wanted to upgrade CPEC and take it to the next level of development to benefit the people of the region.
He praised Pakistani law enforcement agencies for capturing suspects who have “so badly sabotaged” the security situation in the country.
He also expressed optimism that the two sides would continue to cooperate with each other, adding that Pakistan would remain a major destination for Chinese businesses and investors in the coming years.
Liu’s trip to Islamabad comes only days after Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif concluded his five-day visit to China where he met with the top political leadership along with a number of investors and representatives of top technology companies.
The two countries principally agreed to usher CPEC into its second phase, expanding beyond the initial focus on infrastructure and energy to include broader economic and social development goals.
The new phase emphasizes rural revitalization, agricultural modernization, industrialization and green development, among other things.


Balochistan to present budget 2024-25 today

Updated 21 June 2024
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Balochistan to present budget 2024-25 today

  • Provincial government announced last week that budget layout will exceed Rs850 billion
  • Balochistan ministers also announced increase in government salaries in FY25 budget 

ISLAMABAD: The government in Pakistan’s southwestern Balochistan province is set to present its annual financial budget 2024-25 today, Friday, state-run media confirmed.
State broadcaster Radio Pakistan said Balochistan Finance Minister Mir Shoaib Nosherwani will present the budgetary proposals in the provincial assembly at 4:00 p.m.
“Balochistan budget for next fiscal year will be presented in provincial assembly in Quetta on Friday,” Radio Pakistan said.
Speaking at a joint press conference in Quetta on Sunday, Balochistan’s Planning and Development Minister Zahoor Ahmed Buledi and Finance Minister Nosherwani announced that employee salaries would see a 25 percent increase for grades 1 to 16, a 20 percent increase for grades 17 to 22, and a 15 percent increase in pensions in the upcoming budget.
Both ministers said the budget layout would exceed Rs850 billion while the federal budget allocated Rs58 billion for the southwestern province under the Public Sector Development Programme (PSDP) head for the upcoming fiscal year.
Pakistan’s restive Balochistan province, which shares porous borders with Afghanistan and Iran, has been wracked by an insurgency launched by ethnic Baloch militants for decades.
Baloch nationalists have long accused the Pakistani government of monopolizing profits from Balochistan’s abundant natural resources, saying it has led to political marginalization and economic exploitation.
However, Pakistani administrations have denied these allegations, citing several development initiatives launched in the province to improve local living conditions.


PIA aims to repatriate over 35,000 pilgrims from Saudi Arabia following Hajj

Updated 21 June 2024
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PIA aims to repatriate over 35,000 pilgrims from Saudi Arabia following Hajj

  • The national airline is among several aviation services working to bring Pakistani pilgrims back to their homeland
  • PIA says it will operate its special flights to Peshawar, Islamabad, Sialkot, Lahore, Multan and Karachi until July 21

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s national air carrier announced on Friday it would bring back more than 35,000 pilgrims from Saudi Arabia via 171 flights after transporting 325 devotees to Lahore this afternoon who had performed the annual Hajj pilgrimage.

Pakistan launched its post-Hajj flight operation on Thursday, bringing back 1,200 pilgrims through seven flights to four different cities in the country.

The authorities have announced the continuation of special flights to repatriate 70,000 pilgrims on the government Hajj scheme until July 21.

Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) is among several aviation services working to bring Pakistani pilgrims back to their homeland.

“PIA’s post-Hajj flight PK 764 from Jeddah to Lahore arrived this afternoon carrying 325 pilgrims,” the airlines said in a statement. “The pilgrims were adorned with garlands of flowers.”

“PIA will bring back more than 35,000 pilgrims from Saudi Arabia through 171 flights,” it added. “Under the government Hajj scheme, approximately 19,500 pilgrims, under the private Hajj scheme about 14,900, and around 630 Hajj assistants will be brought back to Pakistan.”

Pakistan’s national airlines will operate post-Hajj flights to Peshawar, Islamabad, Sialkot, Lahore, Multan and Karachi.

PIA announced pilgrims from Sukkur and Quetta would travel to their cities via Karachi.

The airlines said it would conclude its post-Hajj flight operation on July 21.