Understanding Urban Resilience: Migration, Displacement and Violence in Karachi


This report is the final output of an ICRC (International Committee of the Red Cross) funded 10-month project. The Principal Investigator was Ms Abira Ashfaq,  Lawyer & Visiting Faculty, Department of Social Sciences & Liberal Arts, IBA, and the Co-Investigator was Professor Nausheen H Anwar, Department of Social Sciences & Liberal Arts, IBA.

The project investigated how deep-seated inequalities in the distribution of economic, political, and social resources, influence migrants’ capacity for resilience in the face of forcible displacement. These inequalities and injustices are constructed along the lines of gender, minority status, citizenship, informality of labor, and rural geography, and are solidified through the use of both overt and tacit political violence in which the state itself is complicit. Overt violence is police high-handedness - unlawful stops, unreasonable use of force and extortion - and tacit forms of institutional violence may include the state's collusion with private interests, inaccessibility of justice systems, erasure from maps and records, and state abdication in service delivery. The report’s main findings are that political or institutional violence exacerbate vulnerability and impact a migrant group's capacity for resilience.

The report covers 10 study sites in Karachi - many are unplanned settlements that have emerged in the past decade on Karachi’s edges, and are a result of different kinds of migration trajectories. The report provides a constructive contribution for understanding some of the key dynamics that are shaping people's decisions to migrate to cities like Karachi, and the extraordinary difficulties they are facing not only in making such decisions, but what is happening to them as they find themselves ensconced in the city's spaces, where the temporariness of work and housing, disconnected infrastructures and exposure to institutional and political violence, make their lives increasingly precarious. A crucial point this report makes is, if the state does not acknowledge and engage positively with the new processes that are shaping ordinary lives and spaces in the city, then solutions to poverty and inequality will remain elusive.

Evictions as Violence: Karachi's Violent Planning Regime

Evictions as a form of structural violence have psychological and other health implications. In Ghareebabad, an informal settlement facing the threat of eviction in Karachi's District South, residents have repeatedly mentioned traumatic distress, anxiety, deteriorating health, and even death in extreme cases. These impacts are significantly greater for women and children

Intersections of Gender, Mobility and Violence in Urban Pakistan

The South Asian city is changing fast. There are more women in urban centers than ever before and they are joining the workforce, albeit more in the informal sector. But the benefits of urbanization do not accrue equally to men and women. Despite women’s need to travel within cities to access economic and educational opportunities, they are still habitually harassed for being out in public spaces. In this chapter (2018) that appears in the edited book Social Theories of Urban Violence in the Global South (Routledge), the authors consider the problems that women experience with mobility in Pakistan’s cities, as they challenge traditional gender roles.

Gender and violence in urban Pakistan

The report is the final output of the Safe and Inclusive Cities Program (SAIC) project (2013 – 2016). The project has focused on the material and discursive drivers of gender roles and their relevance to configuring violent geographies specifically among 12 urban poor, lower-income, lower-middle income, neighborhoods of 3 cities: Karachi, Rawalpindi, and Islamabad. The project has investigated how frustrated gendered expectations may be complicit in driving different types of violence and how they may be tackled by addressing first, the material aspects of gender roles through improved access to infrastructure services and opportunities, and second, discursive aspects of gender roles in terms of public education and media. This report's findings are based upon approximately 2400 hundred questionnaire surveys, close to 60 ethnographic style interviews, participant observations, participatory photographic surveys, media monitoring, secondary literature review and some key informant interviews. The findings overwhelmingly point towards access to services and vulnerability profiles of households as major drivers of violence, as they intersect with discourses surrounding masculinities, femininities and sexualities. The core discussions and analysis in this final research report are anchored in the following four themes: vulnerabilities, mobilities, access to infrastructure services, and violence. This was a multi-method research project and each of the methods was chosen to address specific types of data relevant to the specific research questions.