Safe spaces for women and children after cyclone Yemyin
By Fatima Raja
SINDH PROVINCE, Pakistan, 10 January 2008 – After Cyclone Yemyin struck southwest Pakistan six months ago, an estimated 17,000 women were left vulnerable to neglect, abuse and violence.
Women who lost their belongings in the disaster did not have national identity cards that would allow them access to compensation.
Sayani is the mother of two children. She and her husband lost their home and livestock in the cyclone floods. Recently, she has begun volunteering at the UNICEF-supported Child and Women Friendly Space in her village of Mureed Babbar.
"I knew many things before, but had no way of describing them,” says Sayani. “Since I started coming here, I've learned to discuss matters with confidence and strength."
A safe, supportive environment
Currently, there are 54 Child and Women Friendly Spaces in nine flood-affected districts of Balochistan and Sindh. At the centres, youths are given a place for recreational activities and women have the chance to interract and benefit from psycho-social support.
Activities at the spaces range from handicrafts to life-skills training. In Mureed Babbar, Sayani teaches traditional embroidery and has recently started sending her work to the local market.
UNICEF and its partners are working with non-governmental organizations and local officials to distribute hygiene kits and provide referrals to basic services such as replacing lost documentation and carrying out birth registration.
"It's like our own home, in our own village," says Sayani's husband, who initially had misgivings about his wife volunteering but now supports the project. "Children come here to play and have a safe environment. My wife teaches them crafts. I would like for this space to continue."
'A community place'
Sharam Khatoon, a community mobilizer in Mureed Babbar, recalls seeing positive changes in the community after only three months.
"When I first came to this village, everyone was in his or her own home," Ms. Babbar says. "There had been so much damage that people were stunned into isolation."
The Child and Women Friendly Spaces, which are supported by a contribution from the Dutch National Committee for UNICEF, are run entirely by volunteers like Sayani. They use existing buildings in the hope that the project will be sustainable and empowering for local communities.
"This way, it's their place. It's a community place," says Project Manager Kamleshwer Lohana at Indus Resource Centre, one of UNICEF’s implementing partners.