By: Schezee Zaidi
Islamabad: Up to one million women across Pakistan will benefit from UK support to help protect them from violence and increase their participation in politics, the economy, and decision-making, the UK’s Development Secretary Justine Greening announced Friday.
The new support follows a successful pilot last year, which amongst other things helped thousands of women to get their CNIC cards and participate in mock-voting training sessions, so that they could vote in the recent election — many for the first time.
Greening pledged that the UK will do all it can to support Pakistan to empower women, stop violence, and harness the economic potential of half its population, at a meeting with leading female members of the Punjab Provincial Assembly, including Punjab Minister for Women and Development Hamida Waheedudin, Punjab Minister for Population Welfare Zakia Shahnawaz, and Secretary of Women Development Iram Bukhari.
At the meeting, she heard about steps being taken by the Punjab Government to improve the position of women through its Punjab Women Empowerment Package, and discussed how the UK can best support its ambitious goals.
Secretary of State for International Development Justine Greening said: “Pakistan has one of the worst ‘gender gaps’ and is the third most dangerous country in the world for women. As well as being wrong, this is a huge missed opportunity. Pakistan is missing out on the talent and productivity of half its population, holding back growth and opportunity”.
She further said that UK government pledges its support to the government of Punjab on its ambitious plans as they take this further and also that up to one million women across Pakistan will benefit from UK support over the coming years. This will not only protect them from violence and increase their participation in politics and the economy, but also help Pakistan to harness the talent, skills, and productivity of half of its population, she added.
Pakistan is ranked bottom at 134 out of 135 countries in the World Economic Forum ‘gender gap’ report, due to lack of economic opportunities, denial of access to education and health, and under-representation in politics and decision-making. Pakistan is unlikely to meet the Millennium Development Goals to promote gender equality.
The new support funded by the UK government will help women in local communities by providing them with training on their rights and advice on how to resolve problems, as well as helping district, local and provincial government to implement existing laws, which protect and empower women. The assistance will be provided through local Pakistani organisations and will operate in districts across Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkwha.
The UK already supports Pakistan’s national Income Support Programme (ISP), which protects the poorest by giving women in deprived households small monthly cash grants of 1,200 rupees (approx. £8) to purchase essentials, such as food and medicine. Mothers can receive an additional Rs200 for each child (up to three) they send to primary school. In Punjab, this means 131,812 women receive this money each month, thanks to the UK. This will double to 275,000 families by 2015.
Other priorities for the UK include working with Pakistan to provide support which will benefit four million children in school — half of them girls; preventing thousands of mothers dying in childbirth by funding skilled midwives, nurses or doctors for one million births; and enabling half-a-million couples to choose when and how many children to have. Pakistan is now one of the UK’s largest recipients of development investment. The investment is dependent on continuing to secure value for money and results.