Salma Bibi: working collectively

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Salma Bibi: working collectively

"Every girl in the village knows only tailoring," says 20-year-old Salma Bibi of Akhoon Bandi, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan. Salma left school after primary level, has done a two-year training course in tailoring and embroidery, and works at home with her mother who is also a seamstress. Salma says there were no resources to send her to secondary school outside the village. But she comments: "We educated our brother up to matric (tenth grade), so that he could get a job. I also did not study, as even after an education I will do household chores. We [girls] don't have to get jobs."

Salma describes her daily routine, consisting of prayers five times a day, household chores, tailoring and – depending on the season or need – tasks such as cleaning wheat grain or looking after the family's single buffalo.

For part of her childhood Salma lived with aunts, uncles and cousins along as well as her immediate family. "Later, we all separated… When we lived jointly, then we were good," Salma reflects "We would collectively run the house – jointly cook meals, spend money together." Her father was mostly away, working as a carpet seller or a labourer in various towns and cities. "Nowadays," she explains, "he helps graze the goats belonging to the Khan (a well-off person)…" He also farms, on leased land.

Her father cultivates maize, wheat, ladyfinger and vegetables. "If the ladyfinger crop is good", Salma says, they take it to sell in the nearest market, which involves hiring transport. All their costs have gone up with inflation: "The price of fertilizer is…very high. We also have to pay the tractor-owner… Pesticides are also very expensive." Another challenge is the serious water shortage. "With great difficulty we get our turn for irrigating the fields", Salma says.

Despite these problems Salma feels that farming can be a way out of poverty, if people own land and livestock. In her family's case, though, farming is mostly about living as far as possible outside the money economy, as she illustrates through several examples: "…we give grain to the maulvi (imam) at the masjid (mosque) instead of money. We also give grain to the village barber instead of money… The benefit of cattle is that we do not have to purchase milk... We make curd. We have butter and yogurt. We have ghee (clarified butter) and use it in the home."

Although her own education was cut short, Salma makes use of the basic literacy and numeracy she acquired at school. Being numerate allows her to keep a record of household expenses, for example. She calls for "agriculture-related subjects" in the school curriculum, "so that we get more information on agriculture, on its cultivation methods, which crop is grown in which season, how to use pesticides".

Salma also appreciates being a member of a women's organization in the village. "The benefit is that people sit together, hold a meeting and discuss an issue," she says. "And consider its solution. And try to solve the issue collectively."