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Socio-economic development, independence a distant dream for rural women

KARACHI- For 36-year-old Shamshad Khaskheli, resident of K.K. Nizamani village of District Hala in Sindh, October 15 (today) is just another day to earn a living by sewing clothes. Oblivious to the significance of International Day of Rural Women whereby United Nations General Assembly urges governments to undertake measures to improve the situation of rural women, Shamshad says that she has no hope that the condition of rural women will improve in the coming year.

“I don’t know what this day is about. I just hope the government realises that women residing in the rural areas are no fools and are in need of sewing machines that actually work,” laments Shamshad sharing her disappointment. Sewing machines were recently distributed among the women in her village by the local union council, however, none of them were functional, she says. “The media only highlights announcements by governments, but does not follow up with the recipients.”

Shamshad, who is a councilor, questions the government on how to support the other women in her district when she is not empowered herself. The mother of six, who has completed her matriculation, charges between Rs120 and Rs150 for a shalwar suit. However, unfortunately, the number of her customers has dwindled due to the rise in inflation rate in the past few months, leaving the family dependent mostly on her husband’s meagre income through teaching.

On the other hand is an NGO Thardeep Rural Development Programme that has taken a positive step with regards to women development. Sharing his success story is Sono Khangarani, CEO of the organisation, “since the inception of our organisation, we have been trying to reach out to most villages in Sindh,” he explains. The programme facilitates saving and investment through microcredit schemes and some of the female entrepreneurs registered with us have also won the best National Entrepreneur Award,” he shares.

Talking about the positive impact of the devolution plan in 2001, Khangarani added that political empowerment of women at local union councils induced a sense of hope and responsibility among the rural women as well, hoping the current government does not suspend the system. He further informed that under the Benazir Income Support Programme, the interest-free loan of Rs500 million offered by the Sindh Women Development Minister, Tauqeer Fatima Bhutto, for the chronically poor rural women of Sindh are also a step in the right direction. Considering the current rate of poverty, rural women have attached their hopes with this programme.

On being questioned about the viability of this programme keeping in mind the criticism it has received from various quarters, Khangarani says that the NGO has conducted a household census through the Poverty Scorecard that has proved to be quite helpful in identifying the poor. The scorecard uses simple indicators such as household demographics (such as education and number of children), characteristics of the home (type of walls, type of toilet), household consumption (such as liquid milk or beef) and household durable goods (such as televisions or wrist watches). “So far we have sent the data of 121 UCs of different villages in Sindh,” he informed.

Some observers also add that apart from the efforts of NGOs, the government also needs to come up with a comprehensive policy in the minimum possible time for socio-economic empowerment of the rural women and eradication of poverty before it is too late and rural women like Shamshad, who had seen some improvement in their lives in the past few years, are deprived of their living standard.
Source: The News
Date:10/15/2008

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