Lahore: A visit to a working women’s hostel at Birdwood Road Lahore, run by Women Development Department (WDD) Punjab, supports the argument that the government of Punjab’s promises on delivering services to the working women, as mentioned every year in the Women Empowerment Package, are just hollow.
Not only rules are broken in admitting women to these hostels, but also, the treatment meted out to them is below human dignity.
To gather first-hand information, News Lens Pakistan visited the hostel, where around 22 working women were shifted, in haste, a week ago.
Litter strewed rooms, with gas stoves stashed at one side and a bed being used to keep grocery items, the rooms give the look of a messy animal farm. The bathrooms stink for the lack of water while in one of the washrooms the drain flows right inside it. Without curtains, women are forced to huddle in the corner of the room for fear of being viewed from outside.
“The water pump is not working. Even there are no bulbs. Many rooms drown in darkness as the night falls. We do not have a kitchen. We are forced to cook in our rooms. Even wastebaskets are not available. Without cupboards, we have no option but to put our clothes in shopping bags,” say the residents . In this winter, without warm tap water, and waning gas pressure, girls have to fetch water from the neighboring house to take a bath.
“We are thrown into this new hostel without any warning. One fine morning the girls were told to vacate their rooms as the government, and the owner of the previous hostel had fallen out over some petty issue,” said Shakeela Hashmi, a hosteler, who is working with an NGO as a trainer.
We requested the Warden and the Manger to give us some time at least to pack our belongings. The management promised but when we returned from work in the evening, the hostel was empty and the guard sitting outside gave us the address of the new hostel.
Hashmi and other girls in the hostel told News Lens Pakistan that they did not know what kind of tussle has forced the WDD to change the hostel overnight.
When News Lens Pakistan talked to Samina, the manager of the hostel at its premises, about the hasty decision to change the hostel, she said that some unavoidable managerial issues made them move fast. When asked about the issues she refused to reply.
When News Lens Pakistan went to Women Development Department’s office at Upper Mall Scotch Corner, the Deputy Secretary WDD, Falak Sher Bhatti, declined to own the problem, saying that Syed Sajid Tirmizi (Director) Directorate WDD should be held accountable for the situation.
Mr Tirmizi could not be contacted, since he had gone to Faisalabad, to attend the wedding of his niece.
The reason Bhatti narrated to News Lens Pakistan about the decision to change the hostel in such haste did not match what the Secretary WDD Amna Imam gave on her return from Islamabad.
According to Bhatti the hostel was vacated because the owner of the house had filed a lawsuit against WDD because of the damages to the property due to water seepage from the water tank.
What the Secretary WDD, Amana Imam, told News Lens Pakistan was a revelation, though, and showed the priorities of the Punjab government.
“The Planning and Development Department (P&D) suddenly became annoyed with the WDD and said that the department was spending an enormous amount on the rent of the Working Women Hostel situated at 15/C Kachha Lawrance Lahore. The officers from P&D told us that we had unnecessarily rented such a huge house. We tried to explain to them that space and facilities were needed to accommodate 22 women. But they refused to listen and ordered us to vacate the hostel immediately.” The argument was that the government could not afford the rent. Since we had no time, therefore, we had to shift the women into any available place in the same vicinity, said Amma Imam.
When asked about the rent of the previous hostel Samina said that it was somewhere around 175,000 rupees/month.
As compared to Rs 160 billion being spent on Orange Line Project, this sum certainly looks peanut indeed.
Amna Imam said that she tried to make the officers from the P&D understand that it was the duty of the government to provide facilities that the working women could not afford otherwise.
“Why would the government step into the provision of welfare services, if it had to compete with the private sector,” said Imam.
The WDD is running four hostels in Lahore, located at Lawrence Road, Township, Model Town, and Gulshan Ravi.
According to the law, the hostels accommodate 80 percent women working in the government departments while 20 percent from the private sector are eligible to live there.
Each woman pays a total of Rs 1,100 that comprises Rs 800 room rent and Rs 300 welfare fund. The electricity bill, after the ten percent deduction from the principle amount presumably consumed by the warden and office staff, is divided among the hostelers.
As the name implied, only working women could stay in the hostel. However, rules are bent to suit the whims of the higher-ups.
Saadia Awan, another hosteler told News Lens Pakistan that almost 60 percent women living in the hostel were students.
“These women are the relatives of the government officers who had shifted to Lahore from other cities in Punjab. Because of strong references, these women are preferred over others and are allotted the best rooms sometimes, without any rent,” said Awan.
Even in this poorly kept house, one of the finest places, are given to these women so that they could study comfortably. “We had launched a complaint to the Director and the Deputy Secretary, but instead of solving our problem, they asked us to find a strong reference to make things favorable for us.”
The warden of the hostel, as observed by News Lens has occupied rooms that had cupboards and a functioning washroom.
Saadia Awan said the Director WDD had asked the warden to occupy these two rooms since his sisters would be staying there in future.
Secretary WDD told News Lens Pakistan that his department would change the facility in a week’s time.