It is truly a matter of immense pride and satisfaction for me that Pakistan has made vital inroads to support women empowerment and emancipation during last few years.

The Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) is one of the largest achievements in the social sector of Pakistan. This breakthrough has special significance for me because the programme has not only laid the foundation for sustainable poverty reduction, but has also been able to change the hearts and minds of the people in general about the status of women in our society.

While marking the International Women’s Day, I would like to recall that mainstreaming of women and their socio-economic uplift was envisaged as one of the prime objectives of BISP at the very beginning of this unique initiative in the social sector, besides poverty alleviation.

We as a nation are grateful to Mohtarma Fatima Jinnah, Begum Rana Liaquat Ali Khan and Mother of Democracy Lady Nusrat Bhutto, who played a significant role in the empowerment of women in Pakistan. And inspired by the dynamic leadership and vision of Shaheed Benazir Bhutto, the programme (BISP) was designed to achieve the desired goals of empowering the women folk and making them understand their basic rights.

There is no denying the fact that women empowerment is a key phenomenon for bringing about sustainable socio-economic progress of every society or nation. This forward-looking approach is helping societies to fully benefit from the active participation of women from every walk of life.

It is also worth noting that the women of today are more aware of their role, existence and rights than ever before.

The International Women’s Day is equally significant for Pakistani women, who have made an epic struggle to protect and safeguard the rights of millions of voiceless women in our society. Some historic achievements have been made during this momentous struggle, but still there is a long way to go to uplift the status of women in society.

During the recent years, some landmarks have already been achieved regarding the protection of women’s rights. It is quite an encouraging advancement to achieve the ultimate fruits of women empowerment and emancipation, as envisioned by the Father of the Nation, Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah. 

Our great Quaid was of view that “no nation can ever be worthy of its existence that cannot take its women along with the men. No struggle can ever succeed without women participating side by side with men.”

The history of Pakistan is evident of the fact that it was the democratic government of Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, which revived Jinnah’s vision in its true spirit by taking practical measures to protect the rights of women and by making the welfare of women an integral part of the social, political and economic reforms.

Later, after a long period of tyranny during which the women suffered the most, Shaheed Benazir Bhutto introduced various women-friendly policies to revive their status in society and to reduce their socio-economic hardships. She was, indeed, an ardent believer in women’s rights and empowerment, and thus served the cause of women by making it the foundation stone of her government’s policies.

The commitment of Shaheed Benazir Bhutto for the cause of women has always been a great source of inspiration for me. The first-ever Ministry of Women in the federal cabinet was also introduced by our Shaheed leader. Besides, she introduced several revolutionary policies aiming to empower women.

While highlighting the significance of women empowerment, Shaheed Benazir Bhutto once said: “Empowerment is the right to be economically independent. Empowerment is the right to be educated and make choices. Empowerment is the right to have the opportunity to select a career. Empowerment is the right to own property, to start a business, to flourish in the marketplace.”

Today BISP, through its multipronged poverty reduction and women empowerment strategy has incorporated the entire vision of Shaheed Benazir Bhutto in the form of its different components, i.e. Waseela-e-Haq, Waseela-e-Rozgar, Waseela-e-Taleem as well as health and life insurance covering millions of beneficiary families with women as primary recipients.

In the pursuit of the Shaheed leader’s vision, the PPP-led democratic government, during its constitutional tenure of five years, has introduced a number of new laws aiming to protect and safeguard the rights of women.

The women of Pakistan are still facing a number of challenges. However, it is being anticipated that the negative societal behaviours and the anti-women mindset would finally be defeated through dedicated efforts at various levels.

BISP, as a comprehensive social safety net, has played the most vital and much needed role in enhancing the cause of women’s socio-economic uplift and empowerment. By virtue of making women heads of the family and prime beneficiaries, this initiative proved to be a gaint leap  and this fact has won the recognition from credible international organisations all over the world.

Thank God, more than 1.5 million women have obtained their Computerised National Identity Card (CNIC) during the last four years only to be eligible to get registered with BISP as beneficiary of the programme. It is determined to give women their lost identity in the future development of Pakistan.

The International Women’s Day provides us a chance of re-evaluating our endeavours for empowering the women of the country and to further re-established our commitment with the cause of uplifting their status in our society. 

Inshallah, Pakistan will emerge as a responsible welfare state of the modern era.

The writer is federal minister and chairperson of the Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP).