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.”


On Eid Al-Adha, animal accessories are all the rage 

Updated 17 June 2024
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On Eid Al-Adha, animal accessories are all the rage 

  • Animal traders decorate bulls, lambs and goats to make them stand out and fetch higher prices
  • Customers buy animals, then purchase anklets, bells and colorful collars from decoration stalls

ISLAMABAD: Ashraf Khan picked up a colorful anklet and showed it to a customer from a range of collars, beads, bells and other ornaments at his stall of animal accessories at the Sangjani cattle market on the outskirts of the Pakistani capital of Islamabad.

The 33-year-old, who sets up a makeshift stall at the market every year, said the demand for animal accessories went up just as the demand for animals and their prices surged ahead of the major Islamic festival, marked by devout Muslims by slaughtering animals and sharing the meat with family and the poor.

Khan, who has been selling animal accessories for the last several years, said his clients not only included members of the public, but also traders who wanted to adorn their cows, sheep and bulls before putting them up for sale in order to better attract customers and fetch higher prices.

“We receive goats, lambs and bulls [at our decoration stall],” Ashraf said. “It takes Rs1,000 to Rs1,500 ($3-5) to decorate a goat with different types of materials. Decorating bulls ranges from Rs2,000 to Rs2,500 ($7-8).”

The 33-year-old sources ornaments from Islamabad’s twin city of Rawalpindi and sets up his stall in the Sangjani capital market a week before Eid.

“The price tag depends on the number and quality of items,” Khan said. 

Naik Muhammad, who brought 50 lambs to sell at Sangjani market, said a lamb cost him around Rs25,000 ($90) this year and he was looking to sell it for between Rs85,000 to Rs95,000 ($305-$341).

“The purpose of decoration is that customers like them more and the rates get better,” Muhammad said. “When customers like the animal then we can ask rates of our choice.”

Alamgir Khan, a fruit vendor in Islamabad, purchased a lamb for Rs77,500 ($278) after haggling with sellers for around three hours and brought it to Khan’s stall to buy accessories for decoration.

“We have spent some money on its decoration to make it look beautiful and then the children at home will see it and be happy, and that is a rewarding thing,” Alamgir told Arab News. “This is an animal for sacrifice, it should be adorned.”


Pakistan among big nuclear arms spenders amid swelling global tensions — studies

Updated 17 June 2024
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Pakistan among big nuclear arms spenders amid swelling global tensions — studies

  • Spending for 2023 by the nuclear-armed states jumped more than 33 percent from the $68.2 billion spent in 2018
  • SIPRI says “we have not seen nuclear weapons playing such a prominent role in international relations since Cold War”

GENEVA: Nuclear-armed countries hiked spending on atomic weapons arsenals by a third in the past five years as they modernized their stockpiles amid growing geopolitical tensions, two reports showed on Monday.

The world’s nine nuclear-armed states jointly spent $91 billion on their arsenals last year, according to a new report from the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN).

That report, and a separate one from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), indicated that nuclear weapons states are dramatically scaling up spending as they modernize and even deploy new nuclear-armed weapons.

“I think it is fair to say there is a nuclear arms race under way,” ICAN chief Melissa Parke told AFP.

Wilfred Wan, head of SIPRI’s weapons of mass destruction program, meanwhile warned in a statement that “we have not seen nuclear weapons playing such a prominent role in international relations since the Cold War.”

SIPRI’s report showed that the total estimated number of nuclear warheads in the world actually declined somewhat to 12,121 at the start of this year, from 12,512 a year earlier.

But while some of that included older warheads scheduled to be dismantled, it said 9,585 were in stockpiles for potential use — nine more than a year earlier.

And 2,100 were kept in a state of “high operational alert” on ballistic missiles.

Nearly all of those were held by the United States and Russia, but China was for the first time believed to also have some warheads on high operational alert, SIPRI said.

“While the global total of nuclear warheads continues to fall as Cold War-era weapons are gradually dismantled, regrettably we continue to see year-on-year increases in the number of operational nuclear warheads,” SIPRI director Dan Smith said.

The spending surge reported by ICAN appeared to back that up.

The report showed that in 2023 alone, nuclear weapons spending worldwide jumped by $10.8 billion from a year earlier, with the United States accounting for 80 percent of that increase.

The US share of total spending, $51.5 billion, “is more than all the other nuclear-armed countries put together,” said ICAN.

The next biggest spender was China, at $11.8 billion, followed by Russia, spending $8.3 billion.

Britain’s spending meanwhile rose significantly for the second year in a row, swelling 17 percent to $8.1 billion.

Spending for 2023 by the nuclear-armed states — which also include France, India, Israel, Pakistan and North Korea — jumped more than 33 percent from the $68.2 billion spent in 2018, when ICAN first began collecting this data, it said.

Since then, the nuclear armed states have spent an estimated total of $387 billion on the deadly weapons, the report showed.

Parke slammed “the billions of dollars being squandered on nuclear weapons” as “a profound and unacceptable misallocation of public funds.”

She highlighted that that money was more than what the World Food Programme estimates is needed to end world hunger.

“And you could plant a million trees for every minute of nuclear weapons spending,” she said.

“These numbers are obscene, and it is money that the state says is going toward weapons that... will never be used,” she said, pointing to the nuclear deterrence doctrine.

The investments are not only wasteful but also extremely dangerous, she warned.

“What happens when deterrence fails?“

Geneva-based ICAN won the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize for its key role in drafting the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which took effect in 2021.

Seventy countries have ratified it to date and more have signed it, although none of the nuclear weapons states have come on board.

“Instead of investing in Armageddon, the nine nuclear-armed states should follow the example of almost half the world’s countries and join the treaty... and make a real contribution to global security,” said Alicia Sanders-Zakre, a co-author of Monday’s ICAN report.


Karachi’s professional butchers are the real heroes of Eid Al-Adha 

Updated 17 June 2024
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Karachi’s professional butchers are the real heroes of Eid Al-Adha 

  • Butchers are booked in advance by customers ahead of Eid holiday 
  • Seasonal butchers also use the holiday to make some extra income 

KARACHI: Qayamuddin Qureshi, a 70-year-old butcher affectionately known as Qamo Bhai, works year-round near Jubilee Chowk in the Old City Area of Pakistan’s largest city of Karachi. 

But ahead of Eid Al-Adha each year, the third-generation butcher’s phone rings off the hook as customers call him for advance bookings to visit their homes and slaughter cows, sheep and goats to mark the annual religious holiday.

The demand for professional butchers surges on Eid Al-Adha, or the Feast of the Sacrifice, traditionally marked by the slaughter of animals, whose meat is shared with family members and the poor, while amateur and seasonal butchers also try to make an extra buck during the holiday season.

“People book us [professional butchers] in advance and those who book in advance get the benefit of this early reservation,” Qureshi, a self-described ‘man of his word’ who has been working as a butcher since the age of 10, told Arab News, as he cut up a piece of meat at a shop in Hassan Ali Hothi Market. 

“By the grace of Allah, I am a family butcher... and this is our second and third generation in the profession … I do a lot of work, execute the job in the best manner and make customers satisfied and that’s why they keep calling me back again.”

Last year, Pakistanis sacrificed over six million animals worth $1.9 billion during the three-day Eid Al-Adha festival, according to estimates shared by the Pakistan tanners’ association.

“What we earn during the three days [of Eid Al-Adha] is enough to eat for the six months,” Qureshi said.

Earlier this month, the Meat Merchants Association in Karachi announced the official rates for animal slaughtering services during Eid, with the price for cows set at around $70, for goats at $32 and camels at $144. Amateur butchers often charge as low as $18.

The service charges are highest on the first day of Eid.

“There is a lot of demand for the first day. For example, a cow that costs about a million rupees would be slaughtered for Rs50,000 on the first day,” Qureshi said, adding that the charges gradually decreased by the third day.

Muhammad Naseem Qureshi, another longtime butcher, said he had many returning customers. 

“You can’t find good butchers,” he said. “So the people catch us by themselves. They know that we are good butchers.”

Naseem said he was now refusing orders as his services were fully booked. 

“We have so much work that we have to refuse people,” he said. “We have a ‘Housefull’ sign displayed outside.”

SEASONAL BUTCHERS

Old hands like Qureshi said amateur butchers were easy to identify, particularly though their “tools and slaughtering skills.” 

“They slaughter and work on one animal with the help of four people, but a professional butcher works on the animal alone,” he said. 

But with butchers in such high demand over Eid, not everyone gets to book the craftsman of their choice, particularly as the professionals charge more. 

“The animals are also very expensive,” Karachi resident Hajji Noshad said. “We are [often] compelled to bring in unprofessional butchers who mostly ruin the meat and our sacrifice.”

But for seasonal butchers, Eid Al-Adha is too good an opportunity to let go to generate some extra income.

“We have a family business of sanitary hardware,” Saeed Akbar Ali, who works as a butcher over Eid, told Arab News.

“The job of butcher we do... we slaughter 10-12 animals a day... to meet the expenses for Eid.”


Pakistan joins Muslim world in celebrating Eid Al-Adha, the ‘Feast of Sacrifice’

Updated 17 June 2024
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Pakistan joins Muslim world in celebrating Eid Al-Adha, the ‘Feast of Sacrifice’

  • The Pakistan government has announced a three-day holiday for Eid, from Monday to Wednesday
  • Over six million animals valued at around $1.9 billion were sacrificed during the three-day holiday last year

ISLAMABAD: Muslims in Pakistan started celebrating Eid Al-Adha, or the Feast of Sacrifice, on Monday with food and prayers for the people of Gaza and Kashmir, facing “brutal foreign occupation” but fighting for their right to self-determination.

One of the most important Islamic holidays, Eid Al-Adha is a joyous occasion on which food is a hallmark and during which devout Muslims buy and slaughter animals and share the meat with family, friends and the poor. The revered observance coincides with the final rites of the Hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia.

As the day began, top leaders shared wishes with the Pakistani people, with President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif both urging the nation to “reaffirm their commitment to the values of brotherhood, sacrifice, and selflessness on this occasion.”

“Sharif said the day serves as an occasion to unite the people and foster the bonds of brotherhood and fraternity as well as to look after the less fortunate among us and make them part of our collective celebration,” state broadcaster Radio Pakistan reported. 

“He said on this Eid day, we pray for our Palestinian and Kashmiri brothers and sisters who are bravely facing brutal foreign occupation but remain steadfast in their struggle to achieve their right of self-determination.”

A girl with henna patterns on her hand looks towards a sacrificial animal being slaughtered, as she accompanies her father during Eid al-Adha celebrations in Karachi, Pakistan on June 17, 2024. (REUTERS)

The Pakistani military and its top leaders also extended wishes to all Pakistanis on the occasion of Eid.

“This sacred event embodies the spirit of sacrifice for the greater good. On this auspicious day, we are indebted to our martyrs and ghazis [warriors] for the independence and peace which prevail in the country, and pay tribute to their ultimate sacrifices,” the army’s media wing said. 

“May Allah Almighty continue to bestow His blessings upon Pakistan and protect it from the nefarious designs of its adversaries, Ameen.”

Muslim devotees offer Eid al-Adha prayers at the Eidgah ground in Rawalpindi on June 17, 2024. (AFP)

The Pakistan government has announced a three-day holiday for Eid, from Monday to Wednesday.

According to tanners associations, over six million animals valued at approximately Rs531 billion ($1.9 billion) were sacrificed during the three-day Eid festival in 2023. As many, if not more, animals are expected to be sacrificed this year.

Muslims greet each other after offering Eid al-Adha prayers at the Eidgah ground in Rawalpindi on June 17, 2024. (AFP)

 


Government accuses ex-PM Khan party of sponsoring resolutions in US to halt Pakistan military aid

Updated 16 June 2024
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Government accuses ex-PM Khan party of sponsoring resolutions in US to halt Pakistan military aid

  • Spokesman says Khan’s party began a ‘concentrated smear campaign’ against Pakistan in foreign countries following his ouster in 2022
  • The House Rules committee declared the resolutions against the facts and set them aside after Foreign Office intervention, Aqeel Malik adds

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistani government on Sunday accused former prime minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party of hiring lobbyist firms in the United States (US) to move resolutions in the Congress that sought to halt Pakistan’s military aid.
The PTI began a “concentrated smear campaign” against Pakistan in foreign countries after the ouster of Khan in a parliamentary no-trust vote in 2022, according to Aqeel Malik, a Pakistani government spokesman.
The resolutions tabled last year urged Washington to limit US military assistance to Pakistan until the South Asian country ensured free and fair elections, and independent judiciary and reasserted separation of powers.
Speaking at a press conference, Malik said these resolutions had been sponsored by Khan’s party to promote “anti-Pakistan agenda and narrative,” but the US House of Representatives rejected them.
“In the amendments submitted, they [PTI] said that Pakistan’s security and other assistance should be stopped and requested the secretary of state to submit a report in which human rights violations in Pakistan, other assessments and any irregularities should also be reported,” he said.
“Our Foreign Office had this campaign neutralized, set aside and defeated it. These three amendments were dropped because the House Rules committee declared them against the facts.”
He criticized the PTI for shaping an anti-US narrative in Pakistan following the ouster of Khan from the PM’s office and yet hiring lobbyist firms to promote “anti-Pakistan agenda and narrative” in the US.
In a post on X, the PTI said Congressman Ro Khanna’s call for the US to sanction Pakistan’s army chief, Asim Munir, and other military leaders over transnational repression marked a “crucial turning point.”
“The international community can no longer ignore the blatant human rights abuses and systemic corruption that plague Pakistan. The recent rigged election, with Imran Khan still unjustly imprisoned, is a testament to the military’s stranglehold on the country,” it said.
In the last several months, the PTI has sought support from US lawmakers in investigating alleged rights abuses and crackdown on its supporters in the wake of Khan’s unprecedented campaign of defiance against Pakistan’s powerful military.
In May 2023, 65 congressmen wrote a letter to the US Secretary of Defense to prioritize the promotion of protection of human rights and democracy in Pakistan, according to Malik.
Eleven congressmen wrote a letter to US Secretary of State in November last year to suspend US assistance to Pakistan, while 31 others wrote to the US secretary of state and the president to not recognize the Pakistani government formed after February 2024 election.
Khan’s PTI was severely hamstrung ahead of the February 8 polls, with rallies banned, its party symbol taken away, and dozens of its candidates rejected from eligibility to stand. Arguably Pakistan’s most popular politician, Khan, who has been in jail since last August, says all cases against him are politically motivated to keep him out of politics.