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Pakistan: in the name of honor, women forced to stay in their flooded village

Leaving their homes to take refuge in a camp for the displaced would mean that the women of the village would have to mix with men who did not belong to their family, which would be an outrage to their "honor", residents have explained to the AFP.

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Pakistan: in the name of honor, women forced to stay in their flooded village

Leaving their homes to take refuge in a camp for the displaced would mean that the women of the village would have to mix with men who did not belong to their family, which would be an outrage to their "honor", residents have explained to the AFP.

Basti Ahmad Din's women had no say in the decision.

"It's up to the village elders to decide," replied Shireen Bibi, 17, when asked if she would have preferred to be safe in a camp on dry ground.

Monsoon rains not seen in decades have caused floods that have engulfed a third of Pakistan this summer. In Basti Ahmad Din as elsewhere, the population is coming up against the new reality, with homes and lives devastated everywhere.

More than half of the 90 homes of Basti Ahmad Din, located in the province of Punjab (center-east), were destroyed.

The cotton plants that surrounded the village when the rains started in June now lie rotting in the flooded fields. The dirt road that previously connected the tiny town to the nearest town is under three meters of water.

- 'We are Balochi' -

Frail boats are the only way for the villagers to go outside to get supplies. But the trip is expensive, the owners of the boats having raised the prices.

The inhabitants of Basti Ahmad Din have very little food in reserve. They decided to share and ration what little wheat and grain they managed to salvage from the waters.

Many of the relief workers who came to help the village pleaded with them to leave. In vain.

"We are Baluchis. The Baluchis do not allow their wives to go out," says resident Muhammad Amir, referring to the dominant ethnic group in the village.

"The Baluchis would rather starve to death than let their families go out," he insists.

In rural Pakistan, often deeply conservative, a patriarchal code based on the notion of "honor" governs women's lives.

- 'A matter of honor' -

It severely limits their freedom of movement and their interactions - if they have any at all - with men who are not related to them.

This code even tolerates a woman being killed by a relative on the pretext that she would have soiled the family honor, sometimes simply for having been seen in the company of a man or for having chosen her husband herself.

In situations as desperate as the current one caused by the floods, women can find themselves totally deprived of food or care.

Instead of taking their families there, Basti Ahmad Din's men make a weekly boat trip to the nearest camp for supplies and assistance.

The village elders - all men - believe that it is only acceptable for women to leave in "emergency" situations, such as a serious health problem.

Natural disasters do not count as valid reasons. An elder, named Mureed Hussain, assures that they had not evacuated either during the last major floods, in 2010.

"We hadn't left the village then," he said. "We don't allow our women to go out. They can't stay in these camps. It's a matter of honour."

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