Game changer: extreme heat stifles women’s sports in Pakistan

In this file photograph, taken on January 15, 2024, Pakistani hockey player Aqsa Shabbir trains at the Star Women’s Sports Academy in Jacobabad. (Photo courtesy: Handout via Reuters/File)
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Updated 14 June 2024
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Game changer: extreme heat stifles women’s sports in Pakistan

  • Sport has been unaffordable luxury for girls from low-income households in Pakistan
  • It costs money to get to the few sports clubs available and even eating well is costly

KARACHI: Pakistani student Aqsa Shabbir is hot, tired and frustrated. A keen field hockey player, she can no longer train during the day because of a brutal heatwave, she can’t sleep at night and she fears she will not play well in a tournament at the end of June.
The 17-year-old, who lives in Jacobabad in the southern Sindh province, already had to overcome many obstacles — like many girls who live in Pakistan’s smaller cities where exercising in public is frowned upon — and the heatwave is making things harder.
Two years ago, Jacobabad was named the hottest city on earth after temperatures reached 51 degrees Celsius (124 Fahrenheit). This year, as a heatwave seared southeast Asia, temperatures shot up to 52 degrees Celsius (126 Fahrenheit) in May.
“We cannot keep waiting for the weather to get better — it won’t,” Shabbir told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone from Jacobabad.
Rising temperatures are one more barrier for women and girls who want to stay active in a country where there are few training spaces available to them, apart from private sports clubs reserved for the wealthy.
A 2022 study found that the main obstacles to participating in sport in the Muslim-majority country are “religious and cultural limitations, a lack of permission from parents, and a lack of sports facilities and equipment.”
Now add extreme heat, linked to climate change, to the list.
Shabbir is a member of the Star Women’s Sports Academy in Jacobabad, the only women’s sports club in the city of nearly 300,000 people. The girls have started training later in the day in a bid to beat the heat but parents are unhappy with their daughters returning home late on their own.
And there is little rest at night either. Shabbir says the one air conditioner her family has invested in provides “little comfort” because of frequent power cuts. The long days and nights are affecting her performance. “I am not playing my best,” she said.
Haseena Soomro, who plays hockey at the same club, is equally frustrated.
“Of course the heat impacts our game,” the 19-year-old said. “The heat makes you sluggish, and this game is defined by speed.”
‘LONG AND UNBEARABLE’ SUMMER
Sport has long been an often unaffordable luxury for girls from low-income households in Pakistan. It costs money to get to the few sports clubs available and even eating well is costly.
Some sports clubs try to help out with expenses but Erum Baloch, who founded the club in Jacobabad where Shabbir and Soomro play, says that can also be difficult.
And now she is also grappling with the challenge of training her team on outdoor pitches during what she calls the “long and unbearable” summers.
The situation is complicated by the fact that the women wear long clothing when training. Even though Baloch’s club is in a women’s government college, the girls she coaches are uncomfortable swapping shalwar kameez for jogging pants, never mind cooler shorts.
“Families don’t like them wearing pants … shorts is too far-fetched a concept,” said Baloch. “Until society is ready, we need to concentrate on (making) sports for women acceptable instead of letting a dress come in our way.”
Farwa Batool, from Khairpur city in Sindh, wears long sleeves beneath her T-shirt to cover her arms and also wears a hijab when she plays field hockey.
“You cannot imagine the heat we bear,” she said, adding that she envies the men who can wear just shorts and T-shirts. She gets up at 5.45 am to train at the mixed gender club, hoping no men will be around.
“If we could have women-only grounds, or women timings are introduced with men strictly not allowed, we too can be free of yards of cumbersome clothing.”
In Jacobabad, Baloch is hoping to get financing from the government or a sponsor to pay for an indoor facility with air conditioning.
UNSUSTAINABLE EXPENSES
Zamzam Allahbuksh said she pays out of pocket to top up water and ice supplies at the women’s sports club she runs in Mirpurkhas, 230 km (143 miles) east of Pakistan’s largest city Karachi.
“I don’t want them catching a heatstroke,” she said.
To manage costs, she has introduced games like football and volleyball because she does not have enough equipment for everyone to play cricket or field hockey.
“At least with one football or one volleyball, quite a few girls can play a sport,” she said.
Baloch, too, arranges for drinking water every day for her 43 field hockey players along with oral rehydration solutions but this is not sustainable.
“I don’t know how long I can carry on doing this,” she said. “We cannot train girls on an ad hoc basis — there needs to be a continuous and full government support for them, if they want to play their best.”
As heat threatens the viability of the few facilities available to women and girls, Baloch said she hopes they don’t lose out on the opportunities sports can provide.
Some of the athletes Baloch has coached went on to attend university on sports scholarships.
Bushra Arif, a former field hockey player, is keenly aware of what sport offers girls in her country.
“Sports teach lifelong values like endurance, teamwork, confidence, overcoming challenges,” said Arif, now the director of physical education at Khursheed Begum Girls Degree College in Hyderabad in Sindh.
Despite all the challenges, Shabbir is trying to look on the bright side ahead of her important tournament in the neighboring Sukkur district.
“Who knows, we may outdo other teams from other cities with relatively lower temperatures, being more acclimatized to this extreme heat.”


Pakistan’s opposition alliance announces countrywide protest on July 26 for ex-PM Khan’s release

Updated 21 July 2024
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Pakistan’s opposition alliance announces countrywide protest on July 26 for ex-PM Khan’s release

  • Ex-PM Khan has been in jail since last August on charges his party dismisses as “politically motivated“
  • Six-party opposition alliance demands judicial commission to probe recent shooting at Bannu rally 

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s six-party opposition alliance, the Tehreek Tahafuz Ayeen-e-Pakistan (or the Movement to Protect the Constitution of Pakistan) announced this week it would hold a countrywide protest on July 26 to demand the release of former prime minister Imran Khan and other “political prisoners” in the country. 

Khan, who ruled the country as prime minister from 2018 to 2022, has been in jail after being convicted in four cases since last August. Two of the cases have since been suspended and he was acquitted in a third. 

Last week, Khan and his wife Bushra Bibi were arrested by Pakistani authorities in a case involving the illegal sale of state gifts, after a court accepted their appeals against a ruling that they had violated the country’s marriage law and ordered their immediate release.

Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party says it has been facing a crackdown and mass arrest of its members for standing by Khan. Pakistani authorities deny the allegations.

“Opposition alliance of Tehreek Tahafuz Ayeen-i-Pakistan (TTAP) announced to hold a countrywide protest on Friday (July 26) for the release of all political prisoners including PTI Founding Chairman Imran Khan and reclaiming the stolen mandate,” a press release issued after the alliance’s meeting on Saturday said. 

The six-party alliance comprises the PTI, the Pashtunkhwa Milli Awami Party and Balochistan National Party (Mengal), as well as three religious parties: Jamaat-e-Islami, the Sunni Ittehad Council and Majlis Wahdat-e-Muslimeen

Khan’s party also claims that the national election held in February this year was heavily rigged to keep him and the PTI away from power. Pakistan’s government and election regulator have rejected these allegations. 

’INDEPENDENT JUDICIAL COMMISSION’

Separately, the alliance also called for the formation of an independent judicial commission to probe a recent shooting at a Bannu rally in northwestern Pakistan that triggered a stampede and resulted in casualties and injuries to several. 

At least two persons were killed and more than 20 injured after gunfire triggered a stampede at the procession attended by tens of thousands of people in the northwestern city on Friday. 

The demonstration was held at a time when Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, which borders Afghanistan, has witnessed a surge in attacks on security forces, government officials and anti-polio vaccination teams in recent weeks.

The shocking increase in daily attacks led the residents of the area to demand peace only a few days after 10 soldiers were killed by militants in Bannu’s cantonment area.

“They demanded that an independent judicial commission should be constituted immediately to probe into the deaths and injuries caused by the firings on Bannu Aman [Peace] March,” the statement read. 

The alliance stressed the need for a judicial commission to probe the incident, saying it should be headed by a serving judge. The alliance said the judge should be “free from any external pressure” to ensure a transparent investigation into the Bannu incident. 

The press release added the meeting criticized senior police and provincial administration officials, saying they had “miserably failed in restoring peace in the province” and must be dismissed.


All Pakistani students in Bangladesh safe, confirms foreign office 

Updated 21 July 2024
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All Pakistani students in Bangladesh safe, confirms foreign office 

  • Deadly clashes between students, law enforcers broke out in Bangladesh this week over allocation of government jobs 
  • Pakistan’s foreign office spokesperson says Pakistani students in Bangladesh have been shifted to safe accommodations

ISLAMABAD: Foreign Office Spokesperson Mumtaz Zahra Baloch this week confirmed that all Pakistani students were safe in Bangladesh and had been shifted to safe locations in the country, following days of deadly clashes between protesters and law enforcers over the allocation of government jobs. 

The protests, led by students which began weeks ago but escalated sharply this week, represent the biggest challenge to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina since she won a fourth consecutive term in office after elections in January.

Bangladesh media outlets have reported different figures over the number of people killed in the clashes, with some saying the riots caused the deaths of 17 people while others reported 23 dead. The government on Friday imposed a nationwide curfew and ordered the deployment of troops to maintain order. 

“Our mission in Dhaka is in contact with all students,” Foreign Office Spokesperson Mumtaz Zahra Baloch said in a statement on Saturday. “The deputy head of mission has visited Chittagong to meet the students there as well. All students are safe.”

Baloch said the Pakistani high commission in Bangladesh has shifted students to safe accommodations in the country. 

“These include the high commission, the ambassador’s residence and some other safe locations,” she said. 

The deadly protests in Bangladesh have highlighted cracks in the country’s governance and economy and the frustration of young graduates who face a lack of good jobs.

The protesters are demanding an end to a quota system that reserves up to 30 percent of government jobs for relatives of veterans who fought in Bangladesh’s war of independence in 1971 against Pakistan.

They argue the system is discriminatory and benefits supporters of Prime Minister Hasina, whose Awami League party led the independence movement, and they want it replaced with a merit-based system.

But Hasina has defended the quota system, saying that veterans deserve the highest respect for their contributions to the war regardless of their political affiliation.

The Bangladeshi leader is credited for bringing stable growth to Bangladesh, but rising inflation — thanks in part to the global upheaval sparked by the war in Ukraine — has triggered labor unrest and dissatisfaction with the government.


Pakistan’s disaster management authorities warn of floods in Sindh, Punjab from next week

Updated 21 July 2024
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Pakistan’s disaster management authorities warn of floods in Sindh, Punjab from next week

  • Heavy monsoon rains killed 24, injured 80 in Punjab last weekend, as per official figures
  • Monsoon rains expected to lash parts of Sindh, Punjab from Monday to Thursday next week

ISLAMABAD: The Provincial Disaster Management Authorities (PDMA) in Pakistan’s Sindh and Punjab provinces have warned of flash floods in the country’s two provinces from next week amid a forecast of heavy rains, state broadcaster Radio Pakistan reported on Sunday. 

Heavy monsoon rains have lashed Punjab and Pakistan’s northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) provinces this week. At least 24 people were killed and 80 injured in Punjab last weekend as heavy rains lashed many parts of the province, official figures said.

“Provincial Disaster Management Authorities of Punjab and Sindh have warned of flash floods in various cities of the provinces due to heavy monsoon rains, likely to start from tomorrow till Thursday,” Radio Pakistan reported.

PDMA Punjab spokesperson said floods were expected in Punjab’s cities of Rawalpindi, Attock, Jhelum, Chakwal, Mandi Bahauddin, Gujrat, Gujranwala, Hafizabad, Sheikhupura, Sialkot, Narowal, Sahiwal, Jhang, and Toba Tek Singh, among others. 

As per Pakistan’s Meteorological Department, rains and thunderstorms are likely to occur in Sindh’s Tharparkar, Umarkot, Badin, Mirpurkhas, Sanghar, Hyderabad, Tando Mohammad Khan, Tando Allah Yar, Matiari, Kambar, Shadad kot, Kashmore, Shikarpur, Jacobabad, Ghotki, Sukkur, Thatta and Sajawal districts.

“The spokesperson said PDMA issued an alert for the administration of these cities to take necessary precautions,” Radio Pakistan said. 

The spokesperson urged the public to follow the government’s instructions and take necessary precautionary measures to avoid any damage.

Pakistan is recognized as one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change effects in the world. Unusually heavy rains in June 2022 triggered flash floods in many parts of the country, killing over 1,700 people, inflicting losses of around $30 billion, and affecting at least 30 million people. 


Over 70 local businesses show interest in collaborating with Chinese firms relocating to Pakistan

Updated 21 July 2024
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Over 70 local businesses show interest in collaborating with Chinese firms relocating to Pakistan

  • Government says Chinese firms in textile, medical, plastic and leather sectors will be brought to Pakistan
  • PM Sharif says the transfer of Chinese industries will improve economy, create jobs and strengthen exports

ISLAMABAD: More than 70 local businesses have expressed interest in collaborating with Chinese firms planning to shift their industrial units to Pakistan, according to a briefing given to Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif during a meeting on Saturday to review progress on bilateral cooperation between the two countries.

The meeting was a continuation of the prime minister’s five-day visit to China last month, during which he interacted with investors and participated in wide-ranging business-to-business engagements.

Sharif also met top Chinese leaders, including President Xi Jinping, and discussed the possibility of enhancing cooperation under the multibillion-dollar China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

Apart from that, he visited Chinese agricultural zones and reached an understanding to send Pakistani students interested in learning advanced techniques to increase crop yield amid mounting concerns related to climate change.

“A comprehensive roadmap for the transfer of Chinese industries to Pakistan was presented to the meeting,” said a briefing given to the prime minister according to an official statement released after the meeting. “Collaboration with Chinese companies will be established to transfer Chinese textile, medical and surgical instruments, plastic and leather industries to Pakistan.”

“Seventy-eight Pakistani companies have initially expressed deep interest in collaborating to transfer Chinese industries to the country,” it added.

Sharif was also told that a comprehensive plan to send 1,000 students to China for advanced agricultural training at government expense had been completed.

“The first batch of students will be sent to China at the start of this academic year,” the statement said. “The next batch will be sent to China’s advanced agricultural universities after learning the Chinese language in Pakistan for which the plan has been completed.”

The prime minister said that China was a long-standing friend that had always helped Pakistan in difficult times.

“The Chinese leadership is committed to further increasing investment in Pakistan,” he continued. “The transfer of Chinese industries to Pakistan will improve the national economy, create new employment opportunities and increase Pakistan’s exports.”


Pakistan PM mourns Sheila Jackson Lee’s death, praises her for strengthening bilateral ties

Updated 20 July 2024
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Pakistan PM mourns Sheila Jackson Lee’s death, praises her for strengthening bilateral ties

  • The US Congresswoman was suffering from pancreatic cancer and died on Friday at the age of 74
  • She was the founder of the Pakistan Caucus that was launched in 2004 to foster strong relations

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Saturday expressed grief over the death of American Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, saying she played a significant role to strengthen her country’s bilateral ties with Pakistan.
The US Congresswoman was suffering from pancreatic cancer and died in Houston on Friday night at the age of 74. She was the founder and co-chair of the Pakistan Caucus launched in 2004 within the United States House of Representatives.
The forum was established with the goal of fostering stronger US-Pakistan relations and addressing issues of mutual concern between the two countries.
“Deeply saddened to learn about the sad demise of @JacksonLeeTX18 Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee,” Sharif said in a social media post. “As Co-chair of the Pakistan Caucus in the US House of Representatives, she was a champion for stronger ties between Pakistan and the United States.”
“Her contributions will be remembered and missed for years to come,” he continued. “May her soul rest in peace. My heartfelt condolences to her family and her supporters.”
 


The Pakistan Caucus has been instrumental in facilitating high-level meetings and discussions between officials of the two countries, helping to address mutual concerns such as regional security and trade opportunities.