In this interview, we have had the privilege to speak with a young woman from Gilgit-Baltistan who has achieved remarkable success in her academic and professional life. She has not only excelled in her studies, but she has also made a positive impact in her community through her work in education and social entrepreneurship. Her story is an inspiration to many young people who aspire to achieve greatness in their lives.
The Karakoram: Can you tell us about your journey from Khaplu to Oxford Brooks University? What inspired you to pursue higher education, and what were some of the challenges you faced along the way?
Maria Akbar: I grew up in a small valley called Ghursay in Ghanche, and I attended Public School & College Skardu for my entire schooling. Throughout my childhood, I possessed leadership skills and aspired to lead in every aspect of my life, which was inspired by my father’s never-give-up attitude despite facing numerous struggles. Additionally, my mother’s keen interest in our academic career motivated me to excel in academics.
While in college, I discovered a passion for debating, which grew exponentially, and I started taking part in debate competitions both at school and regionally. Despite my parents’ lack of support, fearing that they might affect my studies, I continued to practice my speeches secretly and won several competitions. I also developed an interest in training sessions led by motivational speakers and NGOs and participated in them during my college days.
After completing my Bachelor’s in Management Sciences at Pakistan’s top-ranked university, Quaid Azam University, Islamabad, I realized my potential to start my own nonprofit organization. With the support of my university friends, I started MAJU (Make Ambition & Join Us), where we collected donations from university students and our pocket money to conduct community service projects. Through this experience, I learned about leadership, team management, and project management.
I applied for the UGRAD program in 2016 and 2017, and after being selected in 2017, it was a turning point in my life. The opportunity gave me exposure to the US and the chance to study one semester in a US university. This experience was followed by an internship opportunity in Turkey through AIESEC in 2019, and in 2021, I represented Pakistan in Russia in Eurasia Global, which further developed my leadership, communication, and networking skills.
After completing my Bachelor’s, I then applied for the Faculty Development Program in Tourism & Hospitality Management by the University of Baltistan and chose Oxford Brookes University, UK, because it is one of the top 10 universities in the world and ranks first in the UK for Tourism and Hospitality studies.
Through my journey, I learned the importance of perseverance, hard work, and resilience. I developed leadership, team management, project management, and networking skills that have helped me become the person I am today. I believe that my experiences have prepared me for future challenges and opportunities, and I look forward to what lies ahead.
The Karakorum: What are some of the most important lessons you learned during your university years, both inside and outside the classroom, that have helped you succeed in your career and personal life?
Maria Akbar: During my university years, both inside and outside the classroom, I learned several valuable lessons that have helped me succeed in my career and personal life. Firstly, I learned the importance of utilizing free time for extracurricular activities, internships, and other opportunities. It’s essential to develop skills that complement your academic qualifications, such as communication and networking skills, to succeed in the job market. I also learned that self-funding your education and gaining field experience can be valuable experiences and a way to relieve the burden on parents.
Furthermore, I learned that maintaining a balance between academic work and social life is crucial for personal and professional development. Participating in extracurricular activities can help you make new friends, build your network, and gain leadership skills that are invaluable in your career. I also learned the importance of time management, prioritizing tasks, and setting goals. These skills have helped me in my career to prioritize my workload, manage my time effectively, and achieve my targets.
Finally, I learned that success is not only about grades but also about experience, skills, and attitude. I learned that employers value skills such as problem-solving, teamwork, and adaptability, and that these skills are often developed outside the classroom. Therefore, I recommend students to focus on developing these skills through internships, volunteer work, and other opportunities while in university. Overall, my university years taught me valuable lessons that have helped me succeed in my career and personal life.
The Karakoram: You have an impressive list of academic and extracurricular achievements. How did you balance your responsibilities, and what advice would you give to other students who want to excel in both areas?
Maria Akbar: As a university student, I learned the importance of balancing academic and extracurricular responsibilities. While it’s important to prioritize studying and completing coursework, it’s also crucial to utilize free time for personal development and pursuing activities that inspire and motivate you. For example, during my university years, I discovered my fascination with radio programs and got an opportunity to host a program called Rgano Na Rgaskat on Pakistan’s largest radio network, Suno FM, and also at Radio Zamindar. This provided an excellent opportunity to develop my communication skills and build connections with high professionals and talented youth of Gilgit Baltistan. Additionally, I always sought out productive and fruitful endeavors during my free time, such as being part of community policing, hosting an inspiring YouTube story from the platform Today Pakistan, voice acting for international campaigns, being a climate change activist, being part of peace initiatives, and appearing as a guest on TV programs to inspire youth.
To excel in both academic and extracurricular areas, students need to adopt a proactive and independent mindset, taking ownership of their lives and stepping out of their comfort zones. Merely obtaining a degree is not enough, and students must focus on building communication and networking skills while actively seeking out opportunities. It’s important to acknowledge that doing unpaid internships or part-time jobs is not a source of shame, and students should not hesitate to embrace these opportunities to gain practical experience.
During exam times, I prioritize my studies and spend long hours in the library. However, I always strive to maintain a healthy work-life balance and make time for activities that help me recharge and stay motivated. Finding a balance between academic and extracurricular responsibilities is a personal journey, and students should experiment with different approaches to find what works best for them. With hard work, dedication, and a proactive mindset, students can excel in both academic and extracurricular areas and set themselves up for success in their future careers.
The Karakoram: You initiated a nonprofit organization, Make Ambition & Join Us, and have successfully hosted numerous events. Can you share more about the work you do and how it has impacted your community? What advice would you give to other young individuals who aspire to start their own initiatives?
Maria Akbar: In 2017, I co-founded the nonprofit organization Make Ambition & Join Us along with my university fellow, Mr. Junaid Ahmad, and with the support of my close friends, Sana, Wafda, Laiba & Hamna. Our organization’s core mission is to promote voluntarism among university students who are often not involved in community service. Within two years, we realized that while there were many social organizations in Islamabad doing great work in multiple sectors, there were limited volunteering opportunities available for students at our university. Therefore, we decided to start our own initiative. To date, we have successfully completed over 30 events in Islamabad and Gilgit-Baltistan, focusing on topics such as career counseling in more than 16 schools and colleges of GB, climate change programs, women empowerment projects like anti-harassment campaigns, Self Esteem trainings to underprivileged females of far-flung border areas villages with Felix Foundation, street children education, ration distribution, supporting old age homes, promoting sports events, and supporting people with disabilities. Our diverse initiatives allow volunteers to participate in events that align with their interests. Through this initiative, I have gained valuable skills in event management, coordination with other organizations, leading events, running campaigns, managing large groups of teams, and persuading students to volunteer. Additionally, it provided me with tremendous networking opportunities, and due to this initiative’s success and vision, I received the opportunity to study in the United States. For any students who aspire to start their own initiative, my advice would be to stay focused, determined, and consistent in pursuing their goals. Collaborate with supportive organizations, and work towards long-term societal improvement. With a strong vision and mission, anyone can achieve their dreams and bring positive change in society.
The Karakoram: How have your international experiences in the US, UK, Russia, and Turkey helped you grow as a person, and what lessons have you learned that can benefit other young people who want to expand their horizons and gain new perspectives?
Maria Akbar: I once read a quote that stated, “The goal of life is to die with memories, not with dreams.” From a young age, I dreamt of studying in an international country and traveling the world. As a child, I used to cut out pictures of foreign countries from newspapers and post them in my diary, telling myself that one day I would visit those countries. Little did I know that these dreams would be fulfilled at such a young age.
I was selected for the undergraduate semester program at Emporia State University in the US, where I studied marketing. The cultural exchange journey allowed me to learn so much, particularly about diversity and interacting with students from other countries. Being challenged or accomplishing things on my own in a foreign country made me appreciate the learning opportunities at every step. As an international student, I learned how to conduct research and write academically. I must mention amazing professors who really encouraged me, such as Ms. Amy Sage, Ms. Deanna, and Ms. Joyce Zhou – they were more of a mentor than an instructor. I also learned how to travel alone and inspire girls who may not have access to such opportunities but can start dreaming and aiming for them.
This US opportunity was a turning point, and during my journey, I decided that every year I would explore a new country, and that was my aim for the coming years. One of my favorite lines from the book ‘Alchemist’ is “When you truly want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it,” and that exactly happened in my life. This led me to do an internship in Turkey through the AIESEC program and then to Russia in Eurasia Global, representing Pakistan among 120 other countries through Future Team Pakistan.
I am now pursuing a Master’s degree from Oxford Brookes University through the Faculty Development Program, and I haven’t stopped. Here as well, I am an active member of the student union as a Democracy Assistant and participated in all major sessions happening here. Fortunately, in this year I explored half of Europe, and more to go in the coming months. So, when we say dream big it actually matters, that’s also a lesson as a human being. Recently, as a spokesperson of Youth Parliament and with the President of YPP, Mr. Ubaid Qureshi, we led a group of Pakistani fellows on a complete tour of UK Parliaments & Universities, followed by discussions on future opportunities for Pakistani students.
The lessons learned from these experiences are that humans have immense potential and can achieve anything if they work hard and follow their dreams. I learned about diverse cultures and met people from different nations, leading discussions on sustainable development goals and raising the Pakistani flag with pride gave me true happiness. I realized that every human being is unique and special in their own way and started accepting new ideologies and respecting other points of view. I became more open-minded and accepting of different perspectives on life. Traveling is necessary to learn great lessons in life.
Young people should have a nature of seeking opportunities, staying motivated, and not being discouraged by failures, which are just a way to gain better experience. Never be afraid to dream big.
The Karakoram: As a successful woman from Gilgit-Baltistan and a role model for many young people in your community, who are some of the individuals that have inspired and mentored you on your journey to success, and how have their guidance and support influenced your personal and professional growth?
Maria Akbar: Thank you for the opportunity to share my journey with The Karakoram magazine. I am honored to be considered a role model for young people in my community, but I still consider myself a student of life, constantly learning and growing.
As the great poet Allama Iqbal once said,
“ستاروں سے آگے جہاں اور بھی ہیں
ابھی عشق کے امتحان اور بھی ہیں
“There are still other worlds beyond the stars and trials of love yet to be faced.” I see myself as a student with diverse experiences, constantly striving for continuous improvement.
Throughout my journey, I have been fortunate to have many inspiring mentors who have played a pivotal role in my personal and professional growth. My parents have been my biggest source of motivation, instilling in me a passion for education and encouraging me to strive for excellence. My father’s dedication to the education sector has been truly remarkable, and my mother’s unwavering commitment to ensuring all her children receive a high-quality education has been outstanding. I am also proud of my grandmother, Syeda Fatima, who stood against societal norms and became the first mother in her village to educate all of her daughters, who are now serving in the education sector of GB.
In addition to my parents and grandmother, I have had many other mentors who have guided and motivated me during my journey. My school teachers recognized my potential and encouraged me to pursue my dreams. Ehsan Danish, the famous poet, Dr. Shujat Mesam, a young politician, and Mr. Waqar Abbas, the youngest ex-finance minister of GB, are some of the mentors who have had a significant impact on my personal and professional growth.
During my time at MCB Arif Habib, my boss, Mr. Murtaza Akhtar, challenged me to meet sales targets, which helped me excel in the marketing sector. I also had the privilege of meeting Mr. Bilal Hussain, the CFO of a renowned textile company, who became a source of inspiration and motivated me not to give up during tough times. His guidance made me more confident in the sector, and the lessons I learned have stayed with me throughout my career.
I must also acknowledge the support of my colleagues and team members who have been instrumental in my journey. I am grateful to have worked with many amazing people, including Ms. Javeria, Ms. Aman, Mr. Waseem Purkistani, Ms. Amna Riaz, Mr. Ubaid Qureshi, Mr. Waqas Johar, Mr. Jalal Khan, the PUAN family, the FTP family, and many others who have helped me build my journey in the right direction.
In conclusion, I believe that having mentors who support and guide us during our journey is crucial for personal and professional growth. With the right guidance and support, anyone can achieve their dreams and make a positive impact on their community.
The Karakoram: How do you plan to use your education and experiences to contribute to the development of Gilgit-Baltistan and Pakistan? What are your future goals and aspirations, and how do you plan to achieve them?
Maria Akbar: I am excited to utilize my education and experiences to give back to my community in Gilgit-Baltistan and Pakistan. As a faculty member at the University of Baltistan, I aim to implement innovative teaching methods to empower my students and equip them with the necessary skills to excel in their respective fields. Additionally, I am involved in several projects aimed at promoting entrepreneurship and economic development in the region, with collaborations underway with local organizations and international partners.
My long-term goal is to become an entrepreneur and support women-led businesses in Gilgit-Baltistan. I believe that empowering women is crucial to the development of our society and economy, and I want to do my part in supporting their growth and success.
Through your forum, I am disclosing for the first time that I am considering contesting in the elections and aspiring to become a women leader to bring real change to society, particularly for the women of Gilgit-Baltistan. While I am unsure what the future holds, I am determined to dream big and work hard to achieve my goals.
The Karakoram: Finally, your story is an inspiration to many young people. What message would you like to share with young people who may face challenges or obstacles in pursuing their dreams, and what advice would you give to those who want to make a positive impact in their communities and beyond?
Maria Akbar: Challenges and obstacles are an inherent part of life, and they will always be there. However, we must never give up and persist in our hard work, as Mirza Ghalib once said,
“مشکلیں مجھ پہ اتنی پڑی کہ آسان ہو گئی”
Continuous struggle is the utmost requirement, and success will eventually follow. I believe that those who aspire to bring positive change in society and possess a genuine passion for it will find their way. My story is a mere illustration of this notion. I have faced numerous setbacks and challenges, such as living far from my family, and encountering failures and mental lows along the way, but I have never given up and have always kept myself motivated. Whenever I encountered difficult times, I pushed myself to stand up again. Success is never handed to us on a plate; we must fight for it and struggle with our comfort zones, financial situations, sleepless nights, being away from our parents, and so on. It is never an easy journey, but having a direction and a plan is crucial. Without direction, we cannot reach our destination.
To all the young people who are facing challenges, I want to say that never let setbacks and failures discourage you. They are a part of the journey, and they are meant to make us stronger. Believe in yourself, and never underestimate your potential. Surround yourself with positive and supportive people who can lift you up in difficult times. And most importantly, never stop learning and growing. Be curious, ask questions, and seek out opportunities to improve yourself.
For those who want to make a positive impact in their communities and beyond, I encourage you to start small and act. Even small steps can make a big difference in the lives of others. Find a cause that you are passionate about and get involved. Volunteer your time, skills, and resources to support local organizations and initiatives. And never forget that every positive action counts, no matter how small it may seem. At the end of the day, we all have the power to create a better world, and it starts with each one of us.
In conclusion, I would like to share these lines from a poem by Allama Iqbal:
“اُقابی روح جب بیدار ہوتی ہے جوانوں میں
نظر آتی ہے ان کو اپنی منزل آسمانوں میں”
Translated, this means: “When the soaring spirit of youth awakens, they see their destination in the skies.” So, dream big, work hard, and never give up on your aspirations. You never know where life may take you, but with determination and perseverance, you can overcome any obstacle and achieve your goals.
KIU Graduate Kiran Ali’s Journey to a PhD: A Tale of Passion, Hard Work, and Perseverance
Kiran’s journey to success began in a remote village in Hunza, where she completed her primary education at Diamond Jubilee Primary School. Raised in a family that highly valued education and its importance for progress and survival in a rapidly changing world, Kiran’s parents instilled in her a passion for knowledge and a desire to dream big.
After completing her primary education, Kiran’s family moved to Gilgit so that they could have better educational opportunities. While, Kiran focused on her studies, she also participated in extracurricular activities and rendered voluntary services in the community. Her outstanding academic performance and efforts in community service earned her honors and awards such as Head Girl and Student of the Year during school and college.
Kiran’s involvement in organizations such as The Ismaili Girls Guide Association, Religious Education Center (REC), and later the Local Education Board (LEB) profoundly impacted her life. These platforms enhanced her intellectual growth and developed her life skills, spirit of volunteerism, leadership abilities, and networking capabilities. Kiran even started her teaching practice as a volunteer, eventually tutoring as a part-time job until completing her masters to ease her parents’ financial burden. Despite these responsibilities, Kiran was still able to give proper time and attention to her studies.
Kiran earned a master’s degree in chemistry with distinction from Karakoram International University, where she was awarded a gold medal for her academic excellence. Her research on the phytochemical screening of a local medicinal plant and isolation of the bioactive compounds sparked her interest in learning more about the unexplored medicinal flora of her region to develop therapeutics for diseases such as cancer. The motivation Kiran received from her professors at university inspired her to pursue her goals even further.
Kiran’s determination and hard work paid off when she received an admission offer for the M.Phil program at Hussein Ebrahim Jamal Research Institute of Chemistry (HEJRIC), which included a reserved stipend for meritorious students. Competing with students from across the country, Kiran’s achievement boosted her spirits and strengthened her belief that determination and hard work are key factors in achieving success. She excelled in her coursework with the highest GPA in her class and successfully completed a research project. Kiran also took online courses to expand her knowledge and attended international conferences to present her research work and explore new areas of study.
Driven by her desire for personal growth and knowledge, Kiran attended an international summer school (online) hosted by Shanghai Jiao Tong University, where she participated in intellectual discussions, informative lectures, and cultural celebrations that helped her thrive in a multicultural community and grow as a global citizen.
These experiences led Kiran to yet another milestone in her career: recent fully funded admission offers to Ph.D. Programs in chemistry from Michigan State University and Carnegie Mellon University in the US.. In her doctoral studies, Kiran aims to conduct impactful research on cancer using her chemistry background. Additionally, she plans to return to her homeland and play an active role in educating and training researchers and conducting research on the prevailing diseases in the region, as well as working for women’s empowerment and children’s rights.
Kiran’s journey from a remote village in Hunza to receiving fully funded offers for prestigious Ph.D. programs at renowned US universities is a testament to the power of hard work, determination, and a passion for learning.
As an alumna of the Karakoram International University, Kiran serves as an inspiration to the next generation of students who strive for excellence and wish to make a difference in their communities and the world.
KIU and Beyond: The Extraordinary Journey of Sonia Zahara
Are you ready to hear an incredible story of hard work and determination? Buckle up because we are about to take you on a journey through the life of Sonia Zahara, an alumna of the Department of Chemistry, Karakoram International University, Gilgit-Baltistan.
Sonia’s success story is an inspiring testament to the power of determination and hard work. Coming from a small town in Pakistan and graduating from an Urdu-medium high school, Sonia initially struggled with self-doubt and underestimated her own abilities. However, through her perseverance and unwavering dedication, she proved that one’s background should not limit their potential for success. This story delves into how Sonia overcame adversity and attained remarkable feats in academics and research. Despite facing limited academic opportunities, Sonia refused to accept society’s negative preconceptions that a graduate from a government school could not accomplish the extraordinary. Her narrative is about to disprove several stereotypes.
To overcome her self-doubt, she took the first step by enrolling in an English-medium college for her higher secondary education. Transitioning to a new medium of instruction came with some new obstacles, but she pushed through and made it to the top of her class. But that was just the beginning. While talking about her transition from an Urdu-medium school to an English-medium school, she said, “Although I had to work extra hard to overcome the challenges that came with attending an Urdu-medium government high school that wasn’t exactly top-ranked, I did not let that stop me from pursuing my dreams. ” She mentioned that throughout her academic journey, she had been fortunate to have had an abundance of supportive teachers who provided unwavering encouragement and guidance. She expressed her gratitude for her teachers from college who had helped her make a smooth transition from Urdu to English medium. Moreover, she acknowledged the pivotal role played by the unwavering support and mentorship of her university professors in her success story.
As an undergraduate student at Karakoram International University, she not only excelled academically by maintaining a perfect GPA, but also thrived in extracurricular activities, taking her overall performance to the next level. During her undergraduate studies, she was awarded a fully-funded scholarship (UGRAD student exchange program) to attend a university in the United States as an exchange student. She was one of only three students from KIU to receive this prestigious opportunity, which speaks volumes about her academic excellence and potential. While talking about her exchange program to the US she said “It is funny that when I got selected for the UGRAD student exchange program, some of my so-called friends tried to convince me not to go to the US alone citing I was a “girl”. Ha! Little did they know that I was unstoppable. I had Iot more friends who were very happy for me, and encouraged me.” She ended up attending Dickinson State University and earned a place on the dean’s list, which is a remarkable achievement reserved for students with excellent academic performance. Her inclusion in the dean’s list is another testament to her dedication towards her studies.
Country presentation at Dickinson State University, USA
Upon returning from the UGRAD program, she found herself falling behind in her coursework. However, she received exceptional support from her teachers in the Department of Chemistry KIU, who offered additional office hours to help her catch up on the material. She expressed her deep gratitude towards her teachers for their assistance, which enabled her to cover the course content and get back on track. In recognition of her academic excellence and outstanding performance, she was awarded a gold medal in 2019, which was reflected in her perfect CGPA of 4.0.
Receiving a gold medal from President Arif Alvi at KIU, Gilgit
After receiving her undergrad degree with distinction, she sought admission to HEJ Research Institute of Chemistry for an M. Phil. degree. And guess what? She did not stop there. She also attended a fully funded summer school at Shanghai Jiao Tong University, China. No big deal!!! But wait, there’s more….
Representing Pakistan at Shanghai Jiao Tong University, China
In 2022, Sonia was selected by the Higher Education Commission Pakistan to attend the Nobel Laureate meeting in Germany, which is a great honor in itself. It is worth mentioning that she was among only six young researchers selected from across Pakistan. As an alumna of KIU and a girl from a small town in Pakistan, it was a remarkable achievement for her to be rubbing elbows with some of the most brilliant minds in the world. When asked about her experience at Lindau, she described it as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. She was surrounded by intelligent people and the world’s best scientists, and the highlight of her experience was having lunch with Nobel Laureate William G. Kaelin Jr. She couldn’t help but express her excitement and said, “I mean, can you imagine how star-struck I was? :D”
With Nobel Laureate William G. Kaelin Jr. and some young researchers from around the world
With Nobel Laureate Jean-Marie Lehn and a fellow researcher
Upon completion of her M. Phil. degree, she secured a teaching position at KIU, her alma mater, where she motivated and guided the next generation of talented students.
Upon reaching the point in her academic career where she sought to undertake a Ph.D. program, she was offered several esteemed scholarship opportunities from numerous institutions worldwide, including the ANSO scholarship for the University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, the Fulbright scholarship, and direct admission offers from several US universities. However, she ultimately chose to attend Boston University, where her current research revolves around the Nano-Bio interface. Additionally, she is working as a teaching assistant at BU, which brings its own set of challenges.
Thus, ladies and gentlemen, that’s her tale of rising from KIU to BU, full of struggles and obstacles that cannot be explained in words but she laughed her way through them all. Because as it turns out when you work hard and never give up on your dreams, the universe has a way of rewarding you in ways you never could have imagined.
In her final remarks, she emphasized the importance of family support, especially for girls. She conveyed that families should be equally supportive of their boys and girls but girls need extra permission and support to overcome societal and cultural barriers. Without their family’s support, the journey toward success can become significantly more difficult for girls. Hence, she urged families to be supportive and provide their daughters with the necessary resources and encouragement to help them pursue their dreams and achieve success. Moreover, Sonia also expressed her wish for parents to trust their children. She believed that when parents trust their children, it instills a sense of confidence and self-belief in them, which is essential for achieving success in any field.
We would like to express our heartfelt gratitude to the successful alumna for sharing her inspiring story and insights with us. Her journey toward success is a testament to the power of hard work, determination, and perseverance, and we are grateful for the opportunity to learn from her experiences. We wish her all the best in her future endeavors and hope that she continues to inspire others to pursue their dreams and achieve success.
Mountain Women and Food Security in CKNP (Central Karakoram National Park)
CKNP is the largest national park in Pakistan. There are 20 valleys and 160 villages surrounding the national park. There are 32,450 households in the buffer zone of the CKNP. Communities living in the buffer zone of CKNP are depended largely on agriculture. Living and working at an elevation of 2800 meters above sea level. The total population in this area is 295,162; of which women are 149, 256 and men are 145,906. In other words, women constitute 51 percent of the total population. More than 95 percent of women are engaged in agricultural activities in this region (CKNP Management Plan, 2013). The challenges and hardships associated with this region are high.
There is less land available for agriculture and such land is difficult to cultivate because of the inaccessibility. Water is available in abundance only in spring, and lifting water to terraced pieces of land is very difficult. Fragile mountains, extreme seasons, and difficult landscapes are the biggest problems in managing and preparing the land for crop production. The Karakoram Highway (KKH) is the only way to access the adjoining areas for food and other necessities of life. If food production could be more vibrant in this area, it would minimize the need to travel outside of the region in search of those necessities.
In the CKNP areas, the crucial role of women in agriculture and food security (e.g., food availability, food accessibility, food utilization and food sustainability) is clear: Food availability means variety of crops grown and produced in a particular area. Women play a significant role in growing the staple crops, maintaining the kitchen gardens, as well as growing cash crops in the Buffer zones of CKNP. Women also take part in making food accessible by drying and storing fruits and vegetables for the winter seasons. Additionally, women utilize and manage the available food for their family members throughout the year, especially in the winter seasons. Due to this strenuous work load, women are constantly under pressure by the inherent roles dictated by society that they are only taking care of their family members and not giving enough time for themselves.
Given the challenges of farming in this area, women’s involvement makes their lives more susceptible to insecurity as they are frequently engaged in agro-pastoral activities in one of the highest mountainous regions in the world. Women distribute their available time to perform different tasks on daily basis. Women’s work participation in crops and vegetables growing, as well as storing for winter is a time-consuming and laborious work. Women’s visible role in agro-pastoral activities is a big challenge under CKNP’s unique geography.
Women have had to endure plenty of physical challenges owing to their overwhelming domestic and agrarian activities. Furthermore, rural women are deprived of enhancing their positions because of a lack of access to educational facilities, conservative cultural codes, male dominance, and early marriages.
Women have limited access to resources and opportunities due to which their productivity remains low compared to men. Lack of access to participate in local decision-making organizations concerned with various kinds of natural resources hinder women from achieving their full potential. Due to women’s ostracism from these decision-making groups, these organizations cannot identify the distinct needs of women in their constituencies and therefore are unable to promote women’s empowerment.
Undoubtedly, while women are producers of food, the physical and social issues they face are concealed. In the whole region of CKNP, there has not been any extensive research carried out so far about women’s lives. Joint families and related social dynamics occurring inside the homes stretch women’s responsibilities. Within the socially defined roles of women, a girl child from her birth is tied with these stereotyped socially mandated duties. A girl imitating her mother continues with the same rigorous work in her life. Women play the role of agents in ensuring food security by producing sufficient food for their households and livestock. Most women are busy day and night harvesting, collecting, preserving, and drying food and fodder, for harsh and prolonged winters, for family, and for livestock. It is only women who are responsible for meeting food and nutritional needs for the whole household in the winter season, while men usually migrate outside of the area in search of seasonal work. But despite being the food producers, women provide the food to other family members first. In other words, the major food producer herself eats whatever others have left over, often being deprived of meat and other proteins. Moreover, the lack of adequate proteins may affect the health of a fetus that usually has not had sufficient nutrients to flourish in utero and the birth of a newborn may be more difficult than normal.
The rural women of the CKNP area have been relatively less exposed to change than women in the urban areas of G-B. They are deprived of opportunities such as education and basic health in part because of lack of availability but also in part because of lack of social access and permission.
Women of CKNP have minimal input into decision-making processes. Male dominance at the household level, as well as at the institutional level, keeps the voice of women away from any decision and policy making at home and at the community level. In comparison with the work and productivity of men, women definitely do not lag behind. In monetary terms, their productive contribution is almost the same as that of men or, in some cases, even more. But the deprivation from taking part in the decision-making is a major problem that women are facing. Participation of women in decision-making in these specific contexts is another significant area. Women’s visible roles, in terms of time consumed in agro-pastoral activities and challenges under CKNP’s unique geography, is significant.
My recommendations to uncover the roles of women in agriculture and food security processes and how women’s participation in family farming relates to women’s empowerment in decision-making regarding family affairs (e.g., the marriage of children, education, selling of agricultural products, major purchases), in CKNP buffer zones, are that policymakers need comprehensive and in-depth data on women’s participation and empowerment. This is indeed a very significant area of study to explore one of the most neglected areas pertaining to rural women of CKNP.
The writer is a lecturer in the Department of Business Management at Karakoram International University, Gilgit-Baltistan.