. .

Poverty alleviationof women in South Asia (Part II)

Globally there are 6 million poor women out of the estimated 1 billion people who live below the poverty line.

By Amina mahfooz
Aug 27 - Sep 02, 2001

Based on 1987 estimates of population, linked with household income and expenditure survey, the poorest group was 18.3% representing 18.4 million people.

As household members, women contribute to the labour resources of the family, but there has been little investment to boost their productivity. This is because socio-cultural traditions define a woman's role as a mother, daughter, wife and sister in relation to a male. All services performed by women within the home, the family farm and enterprise are unpaid, as these are subsumed under the social role assigned to women by tradition. Women in Pakistan have to face different prejudices. Social, cultural limitations, illiteracy, lack of knowledge priority of male over female are some of the major problems. Even then the women are taking active role in the productive and household chores. Women have been discriminated against in seeking access to labour and capital markets, and to such government services as education. Beyond equity considerations, the abilities of this major segment of the population are being vastly underutilized. They are vital contributors to the economic survival of poor households and the reliance of women's earnings increases with the extent of poverty.

The economical role of women is also severely affected by the limited extent to which financial institutions and programmes service their credit needs. There is little statistical data on women's access to credit, which is mostly due to the absence of sex-desegregated information. Nevertheless, it can be construed that women have negligible access to the services of formal financial institutions.

Concern for poverty alleviation and gender equity resulted in attempts by the Government, NGOs and private sector don'ts to tackle the "double burden" faced by women. Strategies for the uplift of poor women took the form of income and employment generation projects. The Government of Pakistan has formally endorsed the Platform of Action emphasizing "Promote and support women's self employment and the development of small enterprises, and strengthen women's access to credit and capital on appropriate terms equal to those of men." Targeted credit programmes were implemented with most of those aimed at women being channeled through NGOs founded by bilateral donors, except for one credit programme, which was implemented through a financial institution, namely the First Women Bank Limited.

The present government gives top priority to the empowerment of women and to bring a positive change in their lives. For this purpose, special efforts have been made for the protection of women's rights. Many activities have been undertaken during 1999-2000 to make women fully productive and efficient member of the society. The present government has announced a package of facilities for the development/welfare of women to enable them to participate in the policy and decision making process at various levels. The National Commission on the Status of women is likely to be established shortly, which would effectively deal with all matters relating to policy formation, review and implementations of various laws, concerning women's rights and struggle for the respectable status of women.

Various women projects both in public and private sectors are being funded. The main purpose of these projects is to provide various services to women, especially in the field of education, training, mother and child health, micro credit and skill development programmes.

Rural women have been made eligible to borrow for all purposes for which the ADBP undertakes its general lending as well as for the approved list of small-scale enterprises. The loan limit for general lending is Rs.25,000 per borrower, while it is Rs. 60,000 for medium term loans for small-scale enterprises.

The most prominent and successful amongst the social and economic development programmes in Pakistan is Aga Khan Rural Support Programme.. Backed by the Aga Khan Foundation (Geneva) and donors was started in December 1982 for the rural development and social uplift in the Northern Areas of Pakistan. It opened the gateway of independence for many women, enabling them to choose their own skills and occupations for contributing to the social and economical will be of their own households and those of their community.

The National Rural Support Programme was established in 1992 with an initial grant of Rs. 500 million by the Government of Pakistan to set up a countrywide programme of poverty alleviation and improvement of living conditions in the rural areas.

A women's income generation project of the Business and Profession Women's Club (BPWC), Lahore, it has the overall objective of making women economically independent. BPWC, an NGO, was set up primarily to protect and promote the professional interests of its members. The club has been operating women's center providing health and literacy services to local women. The project, funded by UNICEF has already trained about 200 women in different skills. 45% of the women trained are generating regular income.

The First Women Bank Limited, established in December 1989, to provide rural as well as urban women. It provides concessional credit at an interest rate of 12%, advanced against a credit line. However, the Bank demands two personal guarantees or the group guarantees. The loan amounting to Rs. 14.4 million has been provided to 14,000 women. These loans are used for agriculture, industrial, commercial and transport sectors and the loans are advanced to those who want to be self-employed. Women Business Center, a subsidy of FWBL, serves in designing training programs for entrepreneurs and organizing workshops and seminars as well as providing advisory services relating to planning, management, marketing and quality assurance.

Orangi Pilot Project, established in 1980 through a donation of BCC Foundation, provides small loans without any tangible security after obtaining a promissory note signed by the loanee and two personal guarantees considered acceptable. Up to the end of December 1991, it had provided loans amounting to Rs. 13 million, which were disbursed to 1,070 households. OPP is engaged in a variety of community self help programmes, covering low cost housing, health and family planning, education, women works centers etc.

Economic empowerment of women in Pakistan requires improved access to, and control over productive resources, including knowledge, credit and marketing channels. Formal credit and savings programmes respond directly to the demands of the women and are an important means of increasing their control over income and access to resources. This reduces the incidence of informal credit.

UNDP fully recognizes the empowerment of women as an integral part of the sustainable human development paradigm and has adopted advancement of women as one of its foci. Micro-enterprise development is seen as dynamic aspects of the economy for addressing the problem of poverty and achieving human development.


In order to empower the women the government should collaborate with private organizations. The following are the recommendations for the availability of credit.

•The timely availability of credit is a crucial requirement for a successful credit programme aimed at poverty alleviation, and it should be available in amounts that are commensurate with the capacity to repay and the needs of the poor.

•Successful enterprises of the poor require successive increments of loan capital in order to improve their financial stability and enable them to increase their activity. Access to credit is crucial not only in the initial stages but also on a continuing basis so that the poor can expand their enterprises to higher level of income activity.

•Credit programmes should focus on the process, which starts with group formation, awareness creation and establishing the fundamental conditions for initiating sustainable economic and social activities.

•Institution building and social infrastructure should be given prime importance in the early phase of credit programmes. Production credit should be introduced as the process and activities get underway.

•Detailed collaboration and exchange of information is necessary between government organizations, banks, academic institutions and the people's organizations.

•Activities need to be implemented at two level; one by the NGO acting as an intermediary, and the other by the village level organization of poor women.

•The village organizations should be made part of the participatory process through which the credit is provided.

•Government should provide additional support to NGOs and have flexible policies, which encourage participatory activities and development.

•While NGOs/CBOs/Vos should have independent status, each of these organizations should be transparent and accountable.

•Participatory monitoring should be set up at the community level.

•Continuous dialogue should take place at all levels with access to support services for problem solving, when required.

•Co-ordination is necessary between economic and social activities. Savings, asset creation, income generation, health, education, etc. are all part of a process and cannot be kept apart in credit programmes.

•NGOs should establish a baseline data for participants and a comparable group of non-participants, prior to the measure the impact of these programmes.

New policy initiative should be taken to link commercial banks to NGOs.

•Credit programmes for women must be based on a grass roots system to prepare poor borrowers for the credit relationship and in order to have adequate provision for the credit relationship and in order to have adequate provision for the supervision and follow-up of borrowers once they have taken loans.

I reach the moon, the stars, the galaxies
But this is not my final destination
Higher and higher ---- onwards and onwards
For if I stop, I die.