PODA President Sameena Nazir speaks at a press conference at the National Press Club on Monday. — Online
PODA President Sameena Nazir speaks at a press conference at the National Press Club on Monday. — Online

ISLAMABAD: Around 3,000 of women from 126 rural districts in the country will participate in the 12th annual Rural Women’s Conference starting today (Tuesday) at Lok Virsa.

The conference has been organised by the Potohar Organisation for Development Advocacy (PODA).

At a press conference at the National Press Club, PODA President Sameena Nazir said the empowerment of rural women is essential for Pakistan’s progress.

She also revealed that the theme for this year’s conference is ‘Synergising Rural Women’s Leadership for Rights-Based Development in Pakistan’.

3,000 women from 126 districts across the country will participate in three-day event

“Participants will discuss different aspects of right-based development in Pakistan and the role of rural women. This year each policy dialogue is dedicated to a prominent rural woman leader who has waged a long struggle for the empowerment of rural women,” she said.

Pushpa Kumari from Tharparkar, Sindh, said the conference is a “unique gathering of rural women in Pakistan”.

“This is the sole platform of rural women, where they gather in thousands and represent their sisters and raise a collective voice for their rights,” she added.

Shahida Irshad from Balochistan said: “We have come from Balochistan to share our issues and present our challenges to policymakers directly.”

She added: “This conference serves like an intersection for all cultures to interact with each other to showcase diversity of the country in letter and spirit.”

Bushra Tabassum from Azad Kashmir said it was not easy to organise a conference of this magnitude, adding “we are proud to be part of it”.

“This is our platform, for which we wait the whole year to come and share our priorities. It helps us build networks and amplify our voice to make a change at the police-level,” Umme Kalsoom Seyal from Muzaffargarh, south Punjab, said.

Nasreen Awan from Sahiwal, also in south Punjab, said the conference is a platform to empower women and contribute to the dialogue for Pakistan’s development.

In a written message, National Commission on the Status of Women Chairperson Khawar Mumtaz praised the conference as “the ideal venue for women to collectively voice their concerns and desires”.

She said the time has come to “transform rural women’s lives, recognize women as the backbone of agriculture and rural households, compensate them adequately, provide skills and opportunities and promise a life of dignity.”

At the opening plenary of the conference, leaders from all four provinces and AJK and Gilgit-Baltistan will report on the activities conducted in their communities during the past year.

Policy makers, government representatives, diplomats and representatives of donor organisations will greet Pakistani rural women on the International Day of Rural Women, observed on Oct 15, and welcome them to the conference.

Published in Dawn, October 15th, 2019