A unique project in Pakistan’s Hunza Valley to renovate and maintain the Altit Fort in a sustainable manner, using locally grown timber, has led to the employment of women as carpenters as an essential part of the work.
The 800-year-old Altit Fort perches high above Pakistan’s Hunza Valley, while the River Hunza flows peacefully below. The fort was in danger of toppling off the cliff altogether before its owner donated it to the Aga Khan Cultural Service-Pakistan (AKCSP) in 2001. The non-profit organisation carried out extensive repairs and the restoration, which was funded by the Norwegian government, was such a success that the fort won a Unesco Asia-Pacific Heritage Award in 2011.
The repairs were carried out by a group of highly-trained women from an organisation called Ciqam, which means ‘wellbeing’, ‘prosperity’ or ‘green’ in the local Brushaski dialect. The women, many of whom come from the nearby historic settlement of Altit now manage the fort and its restaurant in the picturesque orchard below, which is visited by thousands of tourists each year.
As a pilot project under Aga Khan’s “social enterprise for women” initiative, Ciqam was initiated in 2003 to help provide poor households with a means of generating a sustainable income. The pilot was so successful that, today, more than 90 women work in carpentry and site surveying and have been trained as painters, polishers and mechanics in the Hunza Valley and Mastuj, a town in the nearby mountainous province of Khyber Pukhtunkhwa.
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