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Pakistan women drivers break cultural barriers in coal-rich Thar desert; see pictures

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Thu October 05 2017, 4:45 pm
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    As Pakistan bets on cheap coal in the Thar desert to resolve its energy crisis, a select group of women is eyeing a road out of poverty by snapping up truck-driving jobs that once only went to men. Such work is seen as life-changing in this dusty southern region bordering India, where sand dunes cover estimated coal reserves of 175 billion tonnes and yellow dumper trucks swarm like bees around Pakistan’s largest open-pit mine.

    Here is the story of those women, who hopes such jobs can help empower women facing grim employment prospects:

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    The imposing 60-tonne trucks initially daunted Gulaban, 25, a housewife and mother of three from Thar’s Hindu community inside the staunchly conservative and mainly-Muslim nation of 208 million people. Clad in a pink saree, Gulaban said that "at the beginning I was a bit nervous but now it’s normal to drive this dumper." (Image: Reuters)

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    Gulaban - who hopes such jobs can help empower other women facing grim employment prospects - is among 30 women being trained to be truck drivers by Sindh Engro Coal Mining Company (SECMC), a Pakistani firm digging up low-grade coal under the rolling Thar sand dunes. (Image: Reuters)

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    Gulaban has stolen the march on her fellow trainees because she was the only woman who knew how to drive a car before training to be a truck driver. She is an inspiration to her fellow students. (Image: Reuters)

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    Until recently, energy experts were uncertain that Pakistan’s abundant but poor-quality coal could be used to fire up power plants. (Image: Reuters)

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    That view began to change with new technology and Chinese investment as part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a key branch of Beijing’s Belt and Road initiative to connect Asia with Europe and Africa. (Image: Reuters)

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    SECMC, which has about 125 dump trucks ferrying earth out of the pit mine, estimates it will need 300-400 trucks once they burrow deep enough to reach the coal. (Image: Reuters)

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    Drivers can earn up to 40,000 rupees ($380) a month. (Image: Reuters)

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    Now coal, along with hydro and liquefied natural gas, is at the heart of Pakistan’s energy plans. (Image: Reuters)

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    Women aspiring to these jobs are overcoming cultural barriers in a society where women are restricted to mainly working the fields and cooking and cleaning for the family. (Image: Reuters)

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