The uplift and empowerment of rural women (Farmer's wife)
In the rural areas of the province of Punjab, the largest in Pakistan, barely 25% of women are literate; 65% of the population lives in rural areas (72 million individuals).
The NGO Bunyad (meaning "foundation") Literacy Community Council (BLCC) in Lahore, Pakistan, believes in gender equity and feels that the 'first step to development is literacy'. Very few girls and women in the region over the age of 12 years old were literate. They were totally dependant on others, particularly on male family members or older women of the family. This high level of illiteracy was accompanied by an extremely high birthrate, the highest in South Asia. These factors combine to create an environment of poverty.
In a disadvantaged district, Bunyad worked with 50 villages to help them understand the benefits of literacy. Domestic violence and crime against women in the district were rampant as women had no access to money and police protection. Visiting each of the 50 villages, dialogues were conducted with community members. In particular, the orthodox community members (e.g. the clergy) were included in the discussions and it was explained that religion should not bar women from education. Their daughters were also recruited to the movement.
Centers were opened in areas considered to be extremely 'difficult'. Communities slowly observed the benefits that women from farming families could gain by improving their own lives and those of their families and their community, if equipped with learning.
Special tools were developed for these women and girls relating to horticulture, livestock, fish-farming, health, clean water, etc. This specialized training was combined with basic literacy training. After five years, some women in the programme were provided with micro-credit. This served to reinforce the belief that lives could be improved when armed with knowledge.
The programme began with one hundred women. Eight years later, several hundred thousand have participated: traversing from darkness into light and improving their rural lives.
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