ISLAMABAD: Rural Support Programmes Network (RSPN) organised a seminar titled “Women Empowerment: The Road to Success” at the Pakistan National Council of Arts (PNCA), Islamabad recently, as part of the three-day Heritage Festival organised by Sakafat, an organisation working to promote culture and heritage.
The seminar was attended by Jean Francois Cautain, European Union’s Ambassador to Pakistan, his wife Sonia Cautain, and RSPN’s chairman Shoaib Sultan Khan, among other guests.
A panel of experts and practitioners, including Shuaib Sultan Khan, MNA Nafeesa Khattak, Rina Saeed Khan, Professor Farkhanda Aurangzeb, Hajra and Shahida, artisans from SRSO Sukkur, and Neelum Turu held discussions on various aspects of women empowerment and put forward recommendations for improving the social and economic status of rural women in Pakistan.
The seminar highlighted various aspects of women empowerment, including the role of community-driven development (CDD), social organisation, legal empowerment, and the impact of climate change and food insecurity on women empowerment.
The chief guest, Ambassador Jean Francois Cautain, reinforced the EU’s views to empower women all over Pakistan, particularly while collaborating with RSPN.
“My wife and I recently visited Sindh and witnessed the SUCCESS Programme which is only focusing on empowering rural women by the RSPs. I have to say that we were immensely impressed with what the programme has already achieved in only six months of its inception”, he said.
The EU’s Ambassador to Pakistan further added, “We saw women in rural Sindh literally transform their lives and heard them speak about what they have achieved by taking their development in their own hands. I have seen women in Sindh rally and advocate to their local government officials as a collective force and fight for their rights. If you want a sustainable world, men and women have to work together to progress.”
Chairman RSPN Shoaib Sultan Khan, drawing from his six-decades-long experience of working for development of rural communities, emphasised the importance of people organising and coming together to solve their own problems and fight poverty.
Human beings have an innate potential that needs to be unleashed to create awareness, enhance capabilities, increase incomes, and enable empowerment, he stressed.
Shoaib Sultan Khan shared several examples of what women have been able to achieve by overcoming several socioeconomic constraints from Gilgit-Baltistan to Andhra Pradesh in India.
“We work with the assumption that even the poorest man or woman has the potential to come out of poverty; our role is just to help them unleash this potential. Currently, we are working on a programme in Sindh, which works exclusively with women with the help of the European Union. We have the will and the methodology; we just need the political support to keep moving forward,” he said.
Award-winning journalist Rina Saeed Khan spoke about the adversities caused by climate change. Addressing food security issues, floods, displacement and other critical problems caused by climate change, she said women can play a very important role in ensuring food security, as most of the food around the world is grown by women.
Pakistan can secure its future by including women in the labor force, and by promoting small-scale food production enterprises, she noted.
MNA Nafisa Khattak pointed out that local-level institutions can play an important role in empowerment of women.
Sharing her life story, artist Hajra, from Arbab Mir Baher Community Organisation, Sukkur, said that her life has changed since the formation of a community organisation in her locale. She said that their links to markets have improved and now the women are earning much more than what they used to earn earlier. She further pointed out that Sindh Rural Support Organisation (SRSO) played an important role in her transformation by not only training her, but also giving her opportunities for exploring and accessing markets.
Professor Farkhanda Aurangzeb, Manager Legislative Watchgroup, Aurat Foundation, spoke about legal empowerment of women and different laws introduced to ensure protection of women’s rights.
“While formulation of laws is important, it is equally important to spread awareness about the legislations, and to train the law enforcers about the legislatures,” she said, adding that bureaucrats and lawmakers are not aware of the details of laws formatted for women’s rights.
Neelum Turu, a political activist from KP and chairperson of Women Commission KP, discussed the beginning of the women’s rights movement at the global level. She said that the traditional notion of women being lesser than men has changed, and now more space is there for women to start working equal to men.
The seminar concluded with screening of a documentary about the Sindh Union Council and Community Economic Strengthening Support (SUCCESS) Programme, implemented by RSPN, SRSO, TRDP and NRSP, in collaboration with the government of Sindh, with financial support of the European Union.