Fighting with fates

By Sheher Bano
Tue, 04, 18

In a bid to alleviate poverty in the rural areas of Sindh, certain Rural Support Programmes have been initiated, especially for women, at the government level. You! takes a look...

In a bid to alleviate poverty in the rural areas of Sindh, certain Rural Support Programmes have been initiated, especially for women, at the government level. You! takes a look...

Poverty is a global affliction affecting numerous countries in the developing world. Pakistan is home to millions of people who live in extreme poverty. The government of Pakistan is on track to decrease poverty in the country - especially in rural areas - but there is still a lot of work to be done in this regard. As a matter of fact, women in rural areas are active agents of economic and social change who are, in many ways and to various degrees, constrained in their roles as farmers, producers, investors, caregivers and consumers. They play crucial roles ensuring eradication of rural poverty, food and nutrition security and improving the well-being of their families. Yet, they continue to face serious challenges as a result of gender-based stereotypes and discrimination that deny them equitable access to opportunities, resources, assets and services.

In such scenario, certain Rural Support Programmes (RSPs) come to the rescue of these women, so that they become financially strong and support their households without relying on people’s mercy.

For this, a baseline survey was conducted in a few targeted districts, where stories of 20 women showed that each of them faces a unique set of circumstances in their lives. This led towards a unique initiative based on the RSPs’ approach. The SUCCESS (Sindh Union Council and Community Economic Empowerment Strengthening) programme has been initiated with funding from the European Union (EU) in order to help them break away from the vicious circle of poverty. As part of the SUCCESS Programme, Community Organisations (COs), Village Organisations (VOs) and Local Support Organisations (LSOs) were formed to create local level governance bodies owned and operated by the local women. These organisations identify problems and then come up with solutions, with the help of government and other development stakeholders. Programme Manager SUCCESS-RSPN, Fazal Ali Saadi, while explaining the concept said: “These institutions serve as the primary partners in fulfilling the nation’s development agenda on household level across the country where poverty is experienced on a daily basis.”

The six-year long (2015-2021) SUCCESS Programme is being implemented in eight districts of Sindh: Kambar Shahdadkot, Larkana, Dadu, Jamshoro, Matiari, Sujawal, Tando Allahyar, and Tando Muhammad Khan with the objective to mobilise 770,000 women from all rural areas of the respective districts into 32,000 COs, 3,400 VOs, and 307 LSOs. The programme aims to enable the Government of Sindh from 2018 to support and sustain local Community Driven Development (CDD) initiatives throughout the province.

The centrepiece of the SUCCESS programme approach is mobilisation of the poor in order to enable them to participate directly in decisions that affect their lives and prospects. The concept is to build capacities of people to organise, manage their own organisations, and increase the outreach of government and other development actors for genuine demand and effective supply.

Once people are organised into properly functioning institutions of their own, they find the platform to harness their potentials, address their problems and fulfil their needs.

Under the program, approximately 770,000 rural households in eight districts will be mobilised and capacitated through people’s own organisations in the next four years of which at least 70 per cent have the potential to sustain on their own even after the project ends.

Ms Shahzadi with her husband and three daughters

A few ‘SUCCESS’ stories:

Shahzadi - one of the 20 selected women by the programme managers - lives in single-room house, in a village of Tando Allahyar, along with 9 other family members: her husband, seven daughters and a brother-in-law. Having no basic facilities including toilets, she uses the community hand pump shared by approximately 30 other households. Similarly, the electric power supply line is given to her by her mother-in-law with no gas supply even though it is available in the settlement.

Married at 17, she lost her first child due to lack of healthcare facility in her area. Her daughters don’t go to school due to poverty. Her eldest did but had to quit after the school’s only female teacher passed away. Girls are not permitted to study with boys and the school hasn’t appointed a female teacher in three years.

The villagers go to the Basic Health Unit for minor health issues while they visit government hospital in Tando Allahyar for major issues. Shahzadi’s household relies on her husband and brother-in-law’s daily wages, who work at the farm and earn about Rs. 400 per day. Working hardly for only 15 to 20 days in a month, their monthly income remains between Rs. 8,000-8,500. Her elder daughter (14) also earns up to Rs 100-150 per day from cotton picking. In emergency, her husband borrows money from his relatives. Shahzadi represents hundreds of those women of Sindh who are living in abject poverty.

In January 2017, Community Organisation Ghulam Hussain Lund was formed in Shahzadi’s settlement which centres on the belief that poor people can better manage their limited resources if they organise and are provided with technical and financial support.

A sign of resilience for her village fellows, Shahzadi is highly determined to overcome all her issues associated with poverty. “Our CO consists of total 23 female members. We elected CO President and CO Manager in the CO formation meeting and we also agreed to save and hence deposited Rs. 20 to CO Manager as our saving. Our first saving was added up to Rs. 450,” says Shahzadi. However, Shahzadi and her colleagues’ efforts were restricted when male members of the community banned routine meetings of the CO and frequent mobility of women within the village. Not letting the restrictions bog her down, she decided to stand up against this form of oppression and raised her voice to oppose. She instigated all members to stand their ground firmly, schedule CO meetings regularly, and let the activities continue. Also, she clearly communicated with the men of her community not to suspend the activities, i.e., savings and meetings, as they are beneficial not only for the women of the CO but their benefits extend to the whole community. Her consistent efforts with other like-minded women worked, and gradually the men eased up to let the women of their households participate in the activities.

“We have been provided with a platform, now it’s up to us to make the best use of this established forum to address the core issues which are preventing our social and economic growth,” Shahzadi enthuses.

Similar community organisations were formed by women in other villages as well. Wazeeran from village Zemi Sharif of district Jamshoro, while sharing her experience tells, “It was as hard as rock to motivate my husband for participation in the programme activities. But on my consistent pressure, finally he gave me permission to participate.”

Community organisation meeting

Being the only educated woman in the village, Wazeeran was selected as Community Resource Person (CRP) by village organisation. “I am not only getting the honorarium of 25 hundred rupees monthly, but getting known by most of the women of our union council,” she shares. “The difference between me and other women of my village was that I was somehow educated, but there was no platform available for rural women in remote areas, now through these community organisations, women can bring some change. As a priority, I have planned to start a school voluntarily in my village as there is no female teacher available here and parents don’t send their girls to male teachers,” explains Wazeeran.

“Women of the village have also recommended my membership in all the three tiers of community institutions (CO/VO/LSO) and on platforms of these institutions - together we would be able to empower more women of our union council Unerpur of district Jamshoro,” she concludes with a sense of pride.