The rural women from flood-affected areas demanded the government and foreign aid organisations to consult them in the process of loss assessment and rehabilitation, besides meeting their demand on priority basis.
On the International Rural Women Day, rural women from across the country gathered at Lok Virsa where a colourful yet informative festival-cum-seminar was organised by Potohar Organisation for Development Advocacy (PODA).
Other organisations that collaborated in the event included National Commission on the Status of Women and United Nations Development Fund for Women (Unifem) and over 30 organisations including CBOs, local and national organisations, the United Nations, Ministry of Human Rights, Ministry of Women Development, Rural Support Programmes Network (RSPN), Aurat Foundation, Shirkat Gah, Sungi and other partners of PODA. Nearly 1,000 participants attended the conference.
Women from various parts of the country narrated their heart-wrenching stories where the cruel flood taken away all their belongings and in some cases their loved ones too. They said that during relief work women’s safety, their gender-specific special needs, and privacy should be respected and facilitated.
The festivities included women artisans-at-work featuring female master artisans from different parts of the country with their tools, finished and semi-finished products; promotional stalls by NGOs working towards empowerment of women in Pakistan, seminar to focus on the women issues; audio visual presentations on women issues as well as folk musical show with folk artists.
“It’s not about a day — it’s about the 365 days in the life of rural women in Pakistan whose presence remains unnoticed most of the time in our country yet it is this rural woman whose hard work and wisdom ensures that there is food on our tables and peace in our homes and communities,” said PODA Director Samina Nazir.
She shared that PODA has received solidarity messages from over 50 partners and from the President and the Prime Minister of Pakistan and also receiving solidarity messages from Fatima Jinnah Women University, NDMA, FAO, Ministry of Human Rights, Ministry of Women Development, NCSW, UNIFEM and several other partners.
For 2010 conference PODA, NCSW, Unifem and regional partners have consulted with rural women in all parts of the country to prepare a ‘Charter of Rights for Women in Disaster Situations’ to honour the women affected by the recent floods in Pakistan.
The charter demands full participation of women in disaster mitigation and peace building. It also highlights economic rights to rural women in recognition of their contribution for economic empowered women in Pakistan. This charter was presented to the Government of Pakistan and the United Nations at the conference.
Samina Nazir said that all over the world rural women were the backbone of agriculture and economy. They work in fields, look after livestock, fetch water, collect woods and spend huge amount of time while performing these tasks. Yet most rural women are living in poverty without full access to food, health, education or legal services. “In markets their economic rights are violated by middlemen and women have less information and access to market. They worked in large areas of land and have no land rights or cannot take their share in land in most cases,” she said.
While inaugurating the event Federal Minister for Culture Pir Aftab Shah Jillani said, “women constitute fifty one per cent of our total population and most of them live in villages and far-flung areas. No doubt, rural women contribute towards the development of the country and their contribution cannot be ignored,” he said.
The minister assured the rural women that the present government of the Pakistan People’s Party is determined to take every possible step for their uplift and betterment giving them a respectable position in the society. He said, “According to the vision of Shaheed Benazir Bhutto, the government is ensuring equality in all fields to enable women to play their effective role in socio-economic development of the country.”
Farzana Raja, Chairperson, Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) and Ms Tauqeer Fatima Bhutto, Minister for Women Development, Government of Sindh also attended the celebrations.
While speaking on the occasion Farzana Raja shed light on the salient features of BISP adding that it aims to eradicate poverty among the poor people, in particular rural women.
In his opening remarks, Lok Virsa Executive Director said, “We were the first cultural organisation in Pakistan which stood behind PODA and supported them in organising a number of cultural and promotional activities to mark the International Rural Women Day in a most befitting manner. This joint strategy has resulted in highlighting achievements of rural women in the development of the country not only at national but at international level too. In this regard, the role of media was also very encouraging and we are thankful to them for this patronage.”
Explaining about the functions of his organisation, Khalid Javaid said that the mandate of Lok Virsa provides for creating opportunities for the welfare and betterment of master artisans, folk artists and rural musicians including women folk, as the real bearers of our rich cultural heritage, with a view to facilitate them to earn a good livelihood by practicing traditional knowledge that they inherited from their forefathers from generation-to-generation.
“Over the years, we have been able to undertake a wide range of activities that are still immensely contributing towards poverty alleviation among the rural people in general and empowerment of rural women in particular. These important activities include Annual Artisans-at-work Festival called ‘Lok Mela’ organised at Islamabad, art and craft exhibitions, benefit shows for legendary craftspeople and folk artists, recommendations to the government for grant of highest civil award — Pride of Performance — to the deserving artisans and folk musicians,” he said.
Marking the celebrations, ED Lok Virsa announced that Lok Virsa plans to allocate one built-in shop at its complex situated at Shakarparian hills to one bona fide woman artisan in a dying craft field from each province, Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Jummu and Kashmir giving her a chance to display and sell her finished products in the capital city without involvement of middleman. “These shops will be allotted on rotational basis through a transparent manner. The artisans will be selected through a certain laid down criteria,” he said.