Life for Shakar Nisa was comfortable. Her kids went to school, there was plenty to eat, and they could buy fruit. Then one day her husband went to work as usual, to his tire shop in Quetta city, and did not come back. A Sunni extremist militant had shot and killed him.
Nisa, who had never worked or worried about paying the rent, was left to fend for herself and her five children. Her brother-in-law, himself a poor taxi driver, threw her out of the house. She started working as a domestic maid for $50 a month, the equivalent of her monthly rent and utility costs.
With no money left for food, her son left school and started working in a wedding hall for $2 a day. Sometimes, he brought leftover food home. When he could not, the family ate bread with tea.
Her family is one of many in the small Hazara community in Quetta, the capital of Pakistan’s restive Balochistan province, who have lost their male bread winners to sectarian violence.
The Hazaras, a Shi’ite minority sect in Pakistan, are a conservative people who follow a traditional lifestyle. The women usually stay home and men go out to earn a living. But the sect has been a prime target for Sunni extremist groups, with the result that over the years more men have died in bomb blasts and targeted killings than women.
Making ends meet
That has left a lot of households struggling to make ends meet and unable to attend to their basic needs.
“My daughter has a blood infection, but she is not getting a proper treatment. … My kids are not going to school because we don’t have money for their admissions,” said Zahra, who made $25 a month embroidering cushions for a local dealer.
Her brother-in-law, a fruit seller, took care of the entire family when her own husband was too sick to work. When he died in an explosion, the lives of the entire family changed. Zahra’s 15-year-old daughter quit her studies and started embroidering cushions with her, making $25 a month like her mother. But they still needed help from their relatives or neighbors to survive.
Children's future derailed
The violence has forced many Hazara children out of schools and into manual labor, setting them up for a life of poverty.
One of Nisa’s sons had to leave middle school to work in a welding shop so he could earn money. His prospects of an education leading to a well-paid job are gone.