Pakistani women determined to change destiny through CPEC

"It made me believe in miracles," said 24-year-old Lata Mai who drives a 60-ton dump truck in a coal-based power plant in Thar desert of Pakistan's south Sindh province, a project under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

Belonging to an area where women are usually underprivileged and less educated, Mai dared to dream big.

The childhood dream of Mai, now the mother of two, was to drive a vehicle on the barren road of Thar. But she knew it was a fancy thinking that would probably never be realized, until one day her husband brought a pamphlet home which said that the Thar coal project was hiring women to drive trucks.

Mai, who had never shared her dream with anyone, hesitantly expressed her wish to apply for the post.

Her husband merely laughed at the idea, but after seeing her determination, he agreed to support her.

Naseem Memon of Sindh Engro Mining company, a member of the committee that hired Mai and dozens of other young women in Thar, told Xinhua that the women drivers are undergoing a 10-month training and will get behind the wheel in December.

"Unlike other sectors, in a coal project, most of the mining jobs are related to truck driving. When we observed that women in Thar walk two to three miles a day in temperatures as high as 50 degrees Celsius, we believed that if we bring them to job sector, they can do wonders. We were right, they did not disappoint us, they are more hardworking than their male counterparts," said Memon.

"You can imagine how CPEC has changed the lives of these women in a far flung desert of Pakistan. Women, who were utterly dependent on men, are now freely driving heavy dump trucks."

Kiran Sidhwani, a young woman living in the Thar desert, also witnessed a surprising turn in her life after she got a job opportunity in the Thar coal power project.

"She is a young university graduate who is working as an electrical engineer with us. Apart from Sidhwani, we have also hired a female civil engineer who will join work after completing her training," Memon told Xinhua.

Pakistan's Minister for Human Rights Shireen Mazari said earlier this week that when CPEC moves beyond road construction to enter into the building process of economic zones, the standard of workforce will be raised in the country.

"As special economic zones are coming to play, multinational enterprises will bring corporate social responsibility with them. With the bringing in of great corporate social responsibility, we will see the rise and improvement in the standard of workforce, including the women workforce," said the minister.

According to the latest study of CPEC Center of Excellence, CPEC has the potential to create around 1.2 million jobs through the currently agreed projects, and the number may go up with the inclusion of new projects under its long term plan.

The CPEC projects, including energy projects, infrastructure projects, Gwadar Port and industrial cooperation proposed under special economic zones in different provinces of the country, will immensely help reduce the unemployment rate in the country.

Analysts believe that female employment rate in CPEC is low at this stage as the project mainly offers blue collar jobs, but with the development of economic zones, more white collar job opportunities will be offered and more women workforce will take part in it.

A primary school has been established in Gwadar where 498 students including 348 girls are provided quality education to enable them to reap the benefits of CPEC-related projects in the Gwadar port.

Women rights activists are hopeful that CPEC will not only be a game changer for Pakistan's economy, but will also provide opportunities to educated women as well as women laborers to utilize their talents.

"Whole world is looking at CPEC, and Pakistan calls it a game changer, so it is very important that women, who make more than half of the country's population but only 22 percent of the work force, should be given an equal opportunity in it," Shaista Bukhari, president of the Women Rights Association South Punjab, told Xinhua.

Editor: 曹家宁
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