AZIZ-ULLAH-KALOHE, PAKISTAN—Sufia, a mother of five, lost her husband ten years ago.
“I single-handedly had to start managing the house and five children. He was the sole bread-earner of our family and worked as a farmer,” said Sufia, who goes only by her first name. “I had assisted him occasionally with the field work but was primarily engaged in household chores.”
With a lack of education and an early marriage, Sufia, who lives in the Aziz-ullah-Kalohe village in the province of Sindh, felt helpless after her husband’s death. However, for some period of time she was able to make ends meet with some previous savings and financial assistance from her eldest son until his marriage.
“There is no doubt that women in many parts of the developing world have been marginalized and as a consequence have been subjected to poverty, significant economic hardships and unemployment,” says Kyoko Sakurai, a CWS-P/A senior program officer. She adds that the hardships that Pakistani women can experience after the death of a husband in highly rural and conservative areas add to the survival challenges for both themselves and their families.
“Meeting expenses was getting gradually more difficult. People say with time that things get better, but I did not share the same opinion,” said Sufia.
When CWS-P/A started exploring a food security project in Sufia’s district of Mirpurkhas, her family was quickly chosen to participate through a needs-based community-driven selection process.
“Our project in Mirpurkhas promotes the empowerment of women and provides training and support that increases food security and improves livelihoods,” says Sakurai. Project activities, implemented through CWS local partner SSEWA-Pak, include kitchen gardening, livestock maintenance, food preservation and support for candle making. Sakurai says that in addition to training, the formation of self-help groups is central to encouraging savings and promoting support and cooperation amongst community members.
“With the introduction of the self-help group in this village, I realized new opportunities. I received training in kitchen gardening and vegetable preservation and I was saving an average of Rs 100 (US $1.18) by not spending money to go and buy vegetables from the market,” said Sufia.
After paying for household expenses at the end of each week, she contributes Rs 10 (US $0.12) to the savings plan of the self-help group. Sixteen women in the village, including Sufia, all make it their priority to contribute to the group. “This sum may seem rather insignificant for privileged Pakistanis who have access to credit institutions, but for rural families, this money can add up to significant new opportunities,” Sakurai shares.
“I always wanted to run a shop because it had been my fantasy since childhood. And the loan I initially took of Rs 2,000 (US $23.57) made this dream come true,” said Sufia. “I sell various things ranging from biscuits, tea and chips to items like soap.”
The larger Mirpurkhas food security and livelihoods project targets women in 50 villages every year through empowerment activities and training, with a focus on community-based self-help groups that improve the long-term sustainability of the project.
“With time things did get better in my life and SSEWA-Pak’s training and guidance has given us the foundation to move ahead,” Sufia shared. “We have been motivated to save and begin activities that have increased our confidence. Besides, we have been made economically independent and this is very essential in today’s world.”
As a tribute to her husband, his picture hangs at the top of her shop — a reminder to her of who she lost in a place where she has now gained so much.