There is a need for expanding the safety net
BISP is the largest social safety net and woman financial inclusion program of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s Government. It is a unique program which has become internationally acclaimed since it caters to the ultra poor women who need the support of the Islamic welfare state the most. In the last two years as its Chairperson it has been my endeavour to ensure that we as an organisation stay on target in terms of its mission. We aim to provide our beneficiaries dignity, empowerment and meaning to life. In the process we have distributed quarterly stipends worth Rs 4834 per 5.4 million beneficiaries from our annual budget of Rs 115 billion. The amount is distributed through electronic means using mostly debit cards which are one step forward in the financial inclusion journey. We have plans to make these transactions even easier by converting our total customer base to biometric payments soon.
The impact of these funds on women empowerment indicators, on their mobility, on their voting rights, on their sense of dignity within their family, on the reduction of malnourishment, on poverty reduction, on savings has been shared with all of you. We believe in right to information and we have shared our impact reports, our donor ratings, on our performance on our website periodically.
Those are statistics. However, in my opinion what matters most which those who do not get to see our beneficiaries first hand, is the incredible women empowerment revolution BISP has created in Pakistan. BISP has a network through which it organises its women beneficiaries. This network is based on the Latin American experience of beneficiary committees. We are in the process of building the capacity of our BBCs. It’s a lifelong process which all of us will have the humbling experience to contribute towards. Each committee has average 25 beneficiaries; they meet monthly for an hour at a committee leader’s house who is duly elected. Having attended many such meetings myself, I feel that this is yet another National Asset for Pakistan.
The first National Asset is the BISP database which is a scientific survey of all households of Pakistan run through a poverty scorecard. This database the National Socio Economic Registry is Pakistan’s only database which is poverty graded. The second Asset which is also unique and which BISP organises is the network of women, with 50,000 BISP Beneficiary Committees (BBCs) with over 1.25 million women. This network is used to spread positive women empowerment messages primarily encouraging women to send their children to school.
The value of the overall women empowerment messages cannot be undermined. I have often offered both assets to all private and public sector organisations to use for Pakistan’s development in return for valuable services for our women – close to 70 organisations have already done so. However, we need more development oriented programs to use both National Assets so that ultra poor women graduate out of poverty and climb the women empowerment ladder faster.
BISP beneficiary committees overall objective is women empowerment. Currently BISP beneficiaries committees are being trained on the new survey, on how to become part of the Education co responsibility program, on hygiene for their families, on mother and child care health, on Islamic women rights and Pakistan’s progressive women legislation, on how to encourage other needy women to register with BISP and other government welfare programs, on usage of their CNIC for voting, on encouraging women to register their children’s B forms, on how to exit poverty by taking a PM Interest Free Loan, on the importance of nutrition and change in cooking habits to reduce malnutrition, on utilising their skills for livelihoods through e-commerce, on how to use ATMs, on how to count money even if illiterate for better control over their own funds. The list is as long as the silent revolution is.
The training or social mobilisation of our BBCs aims at women exiting poverty and leading more productive and meaningful lives. I would like to invite all those individuals or organisations who are involved in women empowerment and development of Pakistan to work with BISP through its BISP beneficiary committees to improve the lives of the ultra-poor women of Pakistan.