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Giving Back

by Marvi Memon
Asif Hassan—AFP

Asif Hassan—AFP

International Women’s Day, a reminder of what has been achieved and what remains.

In the fight for women’s rights and gender equality, International Women’s Day is an annual reminder to celebrate the achievements of this struggle and to accept the challenges that women still face throughout the world. On this day, we commemorate all those women whose leadership and example have helped inspire and empower the vulnerable. The empowerment of women is critical for the sustainable development of our society. At the Benazir Income Support Program, we are privileged to be able to contribute toward improving the lives of economically vulnerable Pakistani women and their families.

BISP is the largest and most ambitious social-protection program in Pakistan’s history. It is the fullest, most robust expression of our Islamic Republic’s duty to provide for all citizens, especially the most economically vulnerable. BISP is an aspirational program that draws on the tradition of charity, one of the main pillars of our society. It is a taxpayer-supported program backed by bipartisan political support, wide social approval, and bilateral and multilateral development partners. Founded in 2008, BISP endures because it represents the best versions of who we are as a people and nation.

The program addresses the economic helplessness of Pakistani women, especially those who lead households as mothers, whose hands will shape our country’s future. The recipients of BISP grants are clients. Had they not been born into vulnerability and illiteracy, every single one of them could have been a CEO, banker, pilot, architect, software programmer or doctor. In addition to cash grants, BISP has initiated a number of ambitious efforts to mitigate some of the drivers of vulnerability. Waseela-e-Taleem, for example, provides additional cash grants to mothers who can provide evidence that their children between 5 and 12 years of age are enrolled in primary school. Basic cash grants assist mothers in meeting the essential needs of their households; additional top-ups are premised on school enrollment and attendance. In this way, efforts like Waseela-e-Taleem stimulate and reinforce positive actions by vulnerable households that assist in securing their future.

BISP is not, as some mistakenly believe, a program for government handouts. BISP invests in Pakistani households with a view to reducing and eliminating economic vulnerability in the future. The returns on BISP’s, rather, the Pakistani people’s investment in Pakistani women are optimized with an institutionalized feedback mechanism that informs us of the impact of our work. With support from a range of ministries and provincial departments, private sector vendors, and civil society partners, BISP has one of the most sophisticated monitoring and evaluation systems within the government. This allows us to target support and ensure that it continues to serve those who can benefit most from it.

At BISP, we are engaged in building and improving lives. Our language consciously reflects that. So it is “vulnerability” and not “poverty,” “vulnerable” and not “poor,” “client” and not “beneficiary,” and “those that can benefit most” not “those in need.”

On this International Women’s Day, I pay tribute to all BISP clients. At BISP, we will commemorate this day with all sincerity by working for our clients this Sunday in our offices and by launching additional processes and products that will allow BISP to live up to the expectations of its clients and of the Pakistani people. We stand committed to giving our clients empowerment, dignity and meaning in their lives. We stand committed to honoring our women and giving them the tools to protect themselves.

By the Grace of God, Pakistanis have been blessed with limitless talent and generosity. As elected representatives of the people, it is our obligation to create an environment where our people can thrive and shine. Personally, I am blessed and humbled by the honor of having been asked by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to lead the BISP and work for Pakistani women. I hope to live up to the great tradition of public service in our country, and with my team making BISP the pride of Pakistan.

Memon is the chairperson of the Benazir Income Support Program, a member of Pakistan’s National Assembly, and a state minister of the Pakistan government.

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