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Pakistani gypsy women seek to escape poverty

Charities provide help, but government measures are needed to further improve their lives

Pakistani gypsy women seek to escape poverty

Pakistani women walk on a foggy day in Lahore, home to about 43,000 gypsy men and women who get by as beggars, scavengers or entertainers. (Photo by AFP)

Gypsy women in Pakistan have urged the government to better assist them break out of the cycle of poverty.

Commonly known as Khana Badoosh or Pakkhi Wass, gypsies lead a semi-nomadic life traveling through villages and cities. When they settle they do so in tents or mud houses near railway tracks, empty plots or garbage dumps. Without identity cards or schooling, gypsies live a reclusive and marginalized life.  

An estimated 43,000 gypsy men and women live in Lahore and over half of them get by as beggars, scavengers or entertainers. The women usually survive by making clay toys, rugs and straw baskets. Due to lack of opportunities, many become sex workers and are vulnerable to HIV.

Many of them want the Pakistani government to recognize them as home based workers and to allow them get the necessary identification so they can better participate in society.

"The government should facilitate us in acquiring national identity cards and resolve problems related to required documents," said a gypsy rug maker.

"Concerned institutions should provide us with raw materials and promote our traditional products; promote our music through channels and create opportunities for our children to get education," she added.

Sultana was at a Feb. 11 event organized by the AIDS Awareness Society in Lahore that supports the economic empowerment of gypsy women.

"Their skills needed to be updated to meet the demands of today's market," Hector Nihal, the society's director told ucanews.

"Due to the absence of any legislation for gypsies, they are usually nabbed by the police," Nihal said.

The AIDS Awareness Society has already established a center to help gypsy women and young girls start small businesses.

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