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Women Empowerment – An ambitious but most neglected project in Pakistan

Women Empowerment – An ambitious but most neglected project in Pakistan

Government’s income-enhancing programs like Benazir Income Support and Ehsas Kifalat don’t contribute in poverty eradication.

By Gulsher Panhwer

The Sindh province has many experiments and some success stories as for as women development is concerned. The successive government’s attempts to empower women, socially, economically and educationally have been hampered by centuries-old cultural and outdated traditional impediments. However, another important barrier in uplifting women has remained disagreement to top to bottom and bottom to top approach. The non-government organizations have bottom to top approach while the governments of the day prefer top to bottom approach to address gender related problems. Major problem affecting women more than men is poverty.

Different income-support programs such as poverty alleviation initiatives, targeting women including Benazir Income Support and Ehsas Kifalat program launched with much fanfare by PPP and PTI governments respectively have some salutary effect in supporting poorest of the poor to fight ever galloping inflation. However, Mr. Qaaiser Bengali, the celebrated economist and development expert, has different view. He rightly asserts that the above mentioned government programs are income-enhancing programs and don’t contribute in poverty eradication. For poverty reduction, small business and other income generating activities need to be launched to reduce poverty and pulling out the poorest of the poor out of abject poverty mire.

Given that without government’s massive resource utilization female development would be a pipe dream. There is need for wider collaboration between network of Rural Support Programs (RSPs) and government.  Recently Bilawal Bhutto Zardari applauded RSPs for uplifting 1.3 million families out of poverty. Sindh has success story in birth, growth and development of RSPs. Thardeep Rural Development Program (TRDP), one of the RSP emerged as glimmer of hope to initially uplift Thari people. TRDP helped the people of Thar at lower economic ladder from their primitive economy and linked them with modern financial goods and services. Today TRDP is one of the robust RSPs striving to reduce poverty and inequality at grass root level and alleviating the suffering of less privileged segments of the population in Sindh.

Taking an example from TRDP’s work in Dadu District we can peep and perceive the working of RSP and their potential to impact future development work in Sindh since 2016. Jai Parkash Shivani, who is leading the SUCESSS Program in Dadu and Jamshoro districts shares that ‘TRDP has formed 66 local support organizations (LSOs) with all women office bearers and members at Union council level. There are hundreds Village Organization and Muhalla organizations. These women organizations have been made autonomous with TRDP only providing technical and capacity enhancing support.

“These women organization are handling small revolving loans under the sobriquet of community investment funds (CIF) and starting small business from the CIF,” shared Aftab Baloch, the Coordinator of CIF.

These female community organizations are not working in isolation. TRDP has been working as bridge to link these organizations with government and other development stakeholders in the district. “The women leaders of these organizations are supporting government departments and communities in tree plantation, vaccination and other health and education drives. These organizations also get support from government department for launching development scheme in their Villages,” said Ghulam Akbar Khoso Manager at Dadu District.

One leader of the organization got water supply schemes for her 2 villages from public health department. Extremely poor residents of these villages were fetching water from the bumpy distance of 3Kms on motorbikes from tube wells belonging to the landlord since last 2 decades. They incurred Rs.200 to 400 per family per day on oil of motorbikes and tube well as landlords do not allow them to get water from their tube well free of cost.

District Government Department, particularly Sameullah Nisar Sheikh has always responsive to lend the required support to TRDP work.  Another woman leader of LSO Arifa Kalhoro from Union Council Yar Muhammad Kalhoro, shared: “I visited education and public health engineering department for getting teachers and missing facilities for her village school several times but failed to get any positive response. After consultation with organization members, we hired a van and met with Deputy Commissioner Dadu who supported us”.

Arfia Kalhoro told with air of triumph that the scheme for missing facilities for school has been approved and work is about to start. “I look back and recall not long ago women in rural parts were not allowed to speak in higher voice from four walls of their homes. Sometime I don’t believe in my confidence to meet and get scheme from the officers including Deputy Commissioner, the high rank officer in district. It’s really incredible for us and many of people who hear such success story,” she said.

Adbul Samad Phulpoto who is coordinating skill development drive stated that ‘TRDP has also launched technical and vocational training skill development under the SUCCESSS Program where hundreds of male and female youths from different villages have got training and have started their small business or sought employment on the basis of their trainings. This training initiative still continues.

TRDP has launched the Adult Literacy and Numeracy Skill Centre’s (ANLS) in collaboration with government of Sindh and NCHD to impart literacy skills to 13000 females in the Dadu district. This will fill the gap and boost the organizational strength of these female community organizations in hut and hamlet of District Dadu.

“This is small revolution,” said Humera Noor of TRDP, “The area where women were not allowed to step out of their homes, we now see hundreds of women discussing and solving their issues in meeting with government officials, going to the banks and starting their business.”

TRDP has also launched small infrastructure development schemes for paving streets to link the villages with roads and boost the economic mobility of the women and men.

Small water supply schemes, washrooms and other such schemes are geared to improve health and hygienic problems. The nutrition program with EU support is promoting kitchen gardening, paddy fish, goats and poultry to enhance availability of nutrients in rural area and fight malnutrition.


Gulsher Panhwer is a freelance writer mostly touching the environmental, cultural and such other issues. He can be reached at gulsherp@yahoo.com