Gojal area of the Karakorum mountains
family life
social change

community activities
culture and customs
employment and income
environmental knowledge
food security
social institutions
social relationships
spiritual beliefs
traditional skills

introducing the area


 quotes about gender
 key testimonies featuring gender

carrying firewood in Shimshal, PakistanThe Shimshal testimony collection, like others, had a limited number of female interviewers and therefore female narrators. Out of 34 testimonies, only 9 are with women; fortunately these are all of good quality.

The two key issues relating to the experience and position of women in Shimshal today are the changing division of labour and the increase in female education. Hussn, a female teacher, describes the initial scepticism towards female education: "…people used to ask us that boys are getting education to be a pilot or to be an officer, so what do you people do? Are you getting education to go to the moon? They were taunting [us]… People had the concept that a girl is not able to do anything, and if girls got education, they would…be proud" (Pakistan 19). However, today most households in Shimshal are committed to educating their daughters.

gathering of people in Shimshal, PakistanGulbika, whose youngest daughter is currently studying in Islamabad, explains why she feels it is particularly important to educate girls: "Men can work in any circumstance irrespective of their education, but women can only get a respectable job provided they are very well educated… Education is important for the daughter in that after marriage they become queen of their house and if they are educated, the entire atmosphere of the house becomes education-oriented" (Pakistan 27). Several narrators describe the challenges most girls face in continuing their education past the level available in Shimshal. There is a lack of suitable accommodation for young unmarried women in Gilgit and elsewhere, and as Muzaffer explains: "…the other regions are not that open. Therefore, some natural restrictions fall on our women also because of the bigger picture. Every parent wants to send their children to Gilgit or Karachi to get an education; but the environment there is not that good for children to make it there on their own" (Pakistan 29). Whilst Khaliq, the headmaster of the girls' school, accepts that there is value in the level of education attained by most girls, he also regrets that: "after eight, nine years of hard work with the students, they just become normal villagers and they don't study further…" (Pakistan 1).

Hussn is one of the two female teachers in Shimshal and one of the first Shimshali women to complete their education up to matriculation level. (Since her interview she has spent a year on a teacher training course in New Zealand.) Her interview focuses on female education and the position of women in Shimshal, both in terms of her personal experiences and more generally. She describes the need to provide villagers with a good example of the result of female education. This involves balancing her teaching duties with fulfilling Shimshal's traditional roles for women: "I am making money and on the other hand, according to our culture I fulfil some of my needs from the livestock also. And that is why I have to live with the culture of my area and also with other sisters and mothers of our village. If they do livestock rearing, then I also do it, if they do their household chores, then I do too" (Pakistan 19).

Yet traditional roles are also changing, not least because many men are employed outside the village, either seasonally or on a more permanent basis. Chughbai explains, "This year almost all the men were engaged with the tourists and all the agriculture activities such as collection of fodder, food grain etc were carried out by women…" (Pakistan 13). Traditionally men were responsible for managing agriculture and women were responsible for livestock.

Women's main traditional responsibility was for the home and it appears that this role was and is still taken seriously. Men are referred to as outsiders or guests, whereas a woman is like a "president" in charge of managing and rationing all the household resources. Two younger male narrators, both active in the Shimshal Nature Trust (SNT), believe that there has been no real gender discrimination in Shimshal, rather that men and women had different roles which were both respected and valued by society. For example, nomus was carried out in the name of women as well as in the name of men. And there was a tradition of qobil, through which the "best" man and the "best" woman in the village were recognised each year.

In recent years there has been a commitment to increasing women's involvement in public life in Shimshal by inviting women to participate in many of the village institutions. One woman believes this commitment needs to go further: "…Despite this the women are yet to be given more opportunities as the education has become very common and our men must give the women more opportunity to come forward to participate in the institutions…" (Pakistan 17).

There is widespread concern that the completion of the road will have an impact on women's mobility within the village, because of the increased presence of outsiders. In contrast, Roshan believes the road will increase women's ability to come and go from Shimshal: "In the past it was very difficult especially for women to go down country and women were not travelling at all. It took three days to reach Shimshal … But now there is no difference in travelling whether you are male, female or a child due to the new road. We have to wait only for a year or two to complete this road and we will also travel in vehicles like the down country people" (Pakistan 21).

quotes about gender

"In the past, people were of the idea that only boys could bring changes for the society, but now they have learned that education is the only thing which bring girls and boys to the same level, and both of them can bring changes."
Hussn, F/31, teacher, Pakistan 19

"Now women have more tasks to perform compared to the past, now women are doing those tasks as well which were previously supposed to be the role of men… Fetching fuel wood was previously the responsibility of men, but now women are doing this. We were only responsible to fetch fuel wood for the autumn season, and for the winter season men were responsible. And now we are, you can say greedy to get money, and our men are going with tourists or doing some labour to make money… if we haven't money then we would not be able to get tea and other necessities of our daily use. That is why women are supposed to do inside as well as outside tasks alone."
Roshan, F/50, farmer, Pakistan 21

"In former times… Women were not allowed to talk in a gathering or take part in the meeting… This was due to a lack of knowledge and illiteracy because they would not understand things. It is the farman (guidance) of Imam (hereditary spiritual leader of the Ismaili Muslims, currently Prince Karim Aga Khan) that women and men are like the two wheels of a vehicle and the vehicle can only work if the wheels are balanced… It is therefore necessary for the parents to give more opportunity to their daughters to serve the institutions, give them the opportunity to express themselves and to work for the community so that the community makes progress and the new generation is confident and capable to serve the humanity."
Gulshad, F/40, farmer, Pakistan 17

"…it is the responsibility of the wife to know for how long she has to use the materials brought by her husband from downside. You can say that the running of a home wholly depends on a woman. Because in our society the male member is always supposed to be an outsider, he is not aware about the inside of a home. Home always depends on the woman."
Roshan, F/50, farmer, Pakistan 21

"The role of men in the development is such that if one performs nomus then the men offer their services and carry out work. They fetch timber wood for construction, dress the stone and construct the building… The role of women is such that they go to Pamir, prepare cheese, butter and look after their livestock. After that with the consent of women they allocate a certain quantity of their wealth to nomus. Both (women and men) equally contribute to this cause."
Wafa, M/49, farmer, Pakistan 15

"An educated women is confident enough to solve all of her problems, whether they would be social, economical or educational… For example, if she has some health problems, then she can talk to the doctor about her problem confidently and openly. At home, it has been said that "the leap of a mother is the first school of her child", so I can say that the initial development of child is in the hands of the mother… So an educated woman always tries to make her child aware about good and bad things, and help them in their growth, or if her child is having some problem in doing their homework then an educated woman can easily help her child to get out of this problem…
Hussn, F/31, teacher, Pakistan 19

"Most of the girls, after graduating from these schools, some of them go outside - [those] who have a relative outside of the village… But those students who have no relatives or…source [of income] they stay here. That is a big shock for us… after eight, nine years of hard work with the students, they just become normal villagers and they don't study further… Of course [the education they receive in the village] makes a lot of difference. When they get education up to eighth class they can teach their children, they can teach their relatives, they can manage better their household, they can write to their relatives, they can read, they can understand."
Khaliq, M/30s, head teacher, Pakistan 1

key testimonies featuring gender

  No.   Name   Sex/Age   Occupation   Location  
Summary Transcript   1   Khaliq   male/30s   head teacher   Shimshal  
Summary Transcript   13   Chughbai   male/65   farmer   Shimshal  
Summary Transcript   2   Inayat   male/27   development professional   Shimshal  
Summary Transcript   21   Roshan   female/42   farmer   Shimshal  
Summary Transcript   22   Mushk   female/50s   farmer   Shimshal  
Summary Transcript   26   Yeenat   female/51   farmer   Shimshal  
Summary Transcript   27   Gulbika   female/65   farmer   Gilgit  
Summary Transcript   29   Muzaffer   Male/32   development professional   Islamabad  
Summary Transcript   32   Gul   female/95      Shimshal  
Summary Transcript   4   Qandoon   female/57   farmer   Lupghar pasture, Shimshal  
Summary Transcript   9   Hayat Begum   female/60   farmer   Shimshal