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BHURBAN: Despite their poverty, girls and are not allowed to go out of the house to work as our traditions do not allow them to meet or even look at a man not related to her or she would be declared kari.

Speaking at the annual strategy conference of the Rural Support Programme Network (RSPN) on Tuesday, Ruqina Khatoon, a resident of a remote village in Kashmore, said girls in her village live a very limited life.

She said she has now become a local leader after becoming financially independent.

“Things changed after the Sindh Rural Support Programme established a local support organisation in our village and with a loan of Rs10,000, I started a new life after opening a shop. There was no looking back then,” she said.

Ruqina said she was facing poverty and had no option but to work hard and that her success had encouraged other girls to become members of the local support organisation as well.

She said her initial focus was to develop potable water and sanitation facilities on a sustainable basis along with seeking avenues of employment at the local level.

When women have a sustainable financial standing, their role in society is also enhanced, she added.

Many other women from other remote areas also shared their stories during the event. They had all started with small loans from the local support organisation and community-based organisations which would give money to new members when the old ones paid back.

Rural support programmes are an effective way for intervention at the grass root level for poverty alleviation and the EU is the largest donor for rural support programmes in Pakistan.

EU Ambassador Jean François Cautain said though European tax payers were paying for such programmes, Pakistan should not become dependent on EU support.

Caretaker Minister for Human Rights Roshan Khursheed Bharucha was the chief guest at the event. She said that with the merger of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, rural support programmes should increase intervention in the tribal areas in order to speed up development.

The event focused on strategic partnerships with donors and government for rural development and highlighting new initiatives undertaken by RSPN and partner rural support programmes.

RSPN Chairman Shoaib Sultan Khan gave an overview of poverty reduction strategy and how it has evolved over the years. He talked about the rural support programme’s approach to social mobilisation, economic and social empowerment and poverty reduction.

“Mobilisation is not the end story. It is all these things, these interventions that make a holistic approach- social organisations, credit and savings, technical assistance etc. In 2009, Sindh decided to launch the holistic social mobilisation approach,” he said.

With the support of EU, so far 68,500 community organisations, 7,445 village organisations and 589 local support organisations have been fostered in Pakistan.

RSPN CEO Shandana Khan lauded the Sindh government for inviting rural support programmes across the province.

“The main issue is the lack of political will and only PPP has included poverty alleviation in their election manifesto,” she said.

RSPs are collectively the largest group of non-government development programmes in Pakistan in the field of community driven development.

They work under the umbrella of RSPN and have presence in 145 out of 148 districts and agencies in Pakistan.

Published in Dawn, July 4th, 2018