A significant aspect of working to alleviate rural poverty and harness people’s potential to help themselves is addressing issues pertaining specifically to women. These issues may include the lack of literacy and numeracy, lack of documents such as Computerised National Identity Cards (CNICs) and even the lack of their own marriage certificates. The formal knowledge of many women is very limited, even when it concerns such diverse matters as reproductive health and the legislation that is meant to protect them. In the economic sphere many women are hampered by extreme poverty and by their inability to function in public. Most do not have a bank account. Many women, although skilled in traditional knowledge (e.g. in raising livestock, embroidery, cooking and ‘home remedies’) are not able to turn those skills into viable economic activities. They lack assets, access to microcredit and the ability to register a business. Some women also face domestic violence and ‘traditional’ practices that harm them, such as so-called “honour crimes”. Women are often said to have no ‘voice’: they carry water but have no say in where hand pumps are situated; they feed and water the livestock but cannot contribute to deciding when to buy and sell their animals. Most rural women have no access to family planning. Similarly, decisions about girls staying in school, and when they will marry, are often in the hands of men.
NRSP is engaged in increasing women’s ‘voice’ and representation in their communities, villages and Union Councils and increasing their involvement of profitable economic activities. This is achieved through ensuring that women participate in Community Organisations, Village Organisations and Local Support Organisations and through microfinance, asset transfers in their names and the provision of vocational trainings. NRSP’s Gender and Development sector is involved in addressing these and other issues, across the spectrum of Social Mobilisation activities and in discrete projects.
The basis for the work is the comprehensive Gender Mainstreaming Policy. In 2011 NRSP adopted the AASHA Code of Conduct which identifies and addresses sexual harassment in the workplace. www.aasha.org.pk
Gender in the workplace: In order for the concepts and practices of gender mainstreaming (in the workplace and in community mobilisation) to be understood by everyone, the Gender and Development section developed an awareness-raising and training programme in 2008. Sector Managers then developed Gender Action Plans. In 2009 – 10 we developed and rolled out a plan to strengthen the capacities of Gender Focal Persons in the Rural Support Programmes. The gender trainers first took part in a Training of Trainers course with events taking place over one year, supported by the Rural Support programmes Network. South Asian and Pakistani gender experts developed and implemented the process. The syllabus included sessions on Islam and Gender, how to conduct a gender analysis and how to disaggregate data by gender, for use in analysis. In the second stage of the RSPN rollout the Programme Manager for Gender and Development trained 480 NRSP staff members who attended the sessions from all of the NRSP Regions. This process took place over 3 months.
During 2010-11, the Gender and Development section trained members of the Provincial Government, project staff and LSOs on gender awareness, women’s rights issues, and gender budgeting. The section also undertook regular project reviews and screened project proposals (both for NRSP and as a Gender Task Force member of UNOCHA, NDMA, and UN Women) and templates for collecting information from a gender perspective. We also participated in Gender Related Campaigns and Alliances to address violence against women, and added gender perspectives to disaster related proposals, initiatives and Gender and Child Protection policies, both nationally and internationally.
Our Gender experts applied the ‘Gender Action Learning System’ in Sukkur (Sindh). Women and men who belong to COs were consulted about the current status of women and their perspectives on women’s empowerment. The feedback from residents of 25 villages of Sindh and southern Punjab highlighted women’s plight as victims of Gender Based Violence, as well as mobility problems and their lack of access to education and health facilities. The response primarily highlighted the fact that the most disempowered woman is the one who is a victim of Gender Based Violence.
The Gender and Development section supported the project titled ‘Increasing the Voice of Women in the Sindh Coastal Community Development’ by means of the Gender Action Learning Systems training. This project (2009 to 2013) was designed to promote economic development in Badin and Thatta (Sindh).
We conducted a Gender Analysis of the Union Council Based Poverty Reduction Project which resulted in gender sensitization of community members, government officials, NRSP staff and the enumerators who conducted the base line survey. A great deal of improvement was seen in women participants’ confidence, willingness to speak, and awareness.
The project has developed a comprehensive gender strategy to ensure the inclusion and active participation of women in decision making. Women Social Organisers have formed women-only COs. The project stipulates that (i) 50% of those women’s COs should initiate community infrastructure schemes and (ii) 50% of participants in managerial and activist training sessions should be women. Women are encouraged to participate in vocational trainings which are led by women trainers and locally based.
This 2-year programme is highly innovative in two ways: it was the first to link interventions to the Poverty Scorecard and the first major programme in which all interventions were carried out by women. Due to the highly conservative nature of the people in the Union Council, the programme had to overcome strong cultural barriers to change mindsets, increasing women’s mobility, supporting women role models, and enabling women to have a voice within their homes and communities and in Union Council matters.
Over the project cycle we more than doubled women’s representation in mobilized community organisations and many women were able to take part in vocational trainings and exposure visits for the first time. They also benefitted from asset transfers. Women joined COs and benefited from loans under the Community Investment Fund. Women also greatly benefited from the Programme for Adult Literacy and Life Skills (PALLS) and said they had increased their sense of self worth and independence as a result.
NRSP is committed to supporting legislative reform that strengthens women’s rights. The Gender and Development and Social and Human Protection sectors joined hands with the National Commission for the Status of Women in a project to End Honor Crimes. The activities included policy advocacy, understanding legal processes and external resource mobilization by involving community men and women activists and leaders, government, police officials, media, politicians, civil society representatives, masjid khateebs (religious representatives), and school children. In this case gaps have been identified in the legislation and a forum has been provided to facilitate all stakeholders to agree on the nature of legislation for victimized women.
We have also collaborated with White Ribbon Pakistan (www.whiteribbon.org.pk) in order to engage men from the Community Organisations in addressing Gender Discrimination. NRSP is also represented at the annual International Day of Rural Women, celebrated on October 15th.
NRSP advocates the use of a gender perspective in Disaster Risk Reduction: this perspective has been shared in several forums: at high level meetings, with Union Council Secretaries belonging to disaster stricken areas, and at conferences. We advocate bringing authentic grassroots perspectives for gender specialists while the gender perspective is useful for high profile organizations and Government bodies such as FOCUS International and the National Disaster Management Authority.
Initiatives to acknowledge and facilitate Women Staff include piloting day care services for mothers of infants at NRSP, the Rural Support Programmes Network and the Institute of Rural Management. NRSP also celebrates Working Women’s Day in all 9 NRSP Regions and enables women staff to participate in the RSPN Women’s Leadership Programme.
The Gender Department has collaborated with Pakistan Social Association to enable young women to create websites for their businesses and to improve their marketing strategies. Ten training centres have been established in 10 Union Councils. The women are now able to teach other women those skills. The Centres also offer religious education (in the safety of the training centre), and health and Education awareness for community children, youth and women.