OUR STAFF REPORTER ISLAMABAD To mark International Day of Rural Women, a festival-cum-conference was held here at Lok Virsa Complex under the aegis of the National Institute of Folk and Traditional Heritage (Lok Virsa), Ministry of Information and Broadcasting and Potohar Organization for Development Advocacy, (PODA) in collaboration with other partner organizations. The festivities included women artisans-at-work featuring female master artisans from different parts of the country with their tools, finished and semi-finished products; promotional stalls by NGOs working towards empowerment of women in Pakistan, a conference to focus on the women issues; audio visual presentations on women issues as well as a musical performance. The opening ceremony was graced by Syeda Fizza Gilani, Honorary Ambassador for Empowerment of Women, Prime Ministers Secretariat. Fizza Batool Gilani said that government was taking concrete steps for the protection of women rights. She said that the women in rural areas of Pakistan were not only facing economic difficulties but were also facing lack of health facilities. She expressed her delight over Pakistans decision to accept observance of Rural Women Day as UN was already observing it. Turning to the government step for women development and protection of their rights, she said that women were protected by the passage of the law against women harassment at workplaces. She further said that Rs. 50 billion per annum are being provided to the women in rural areas under BISP and added that some 70 per cent beneficiaries under the programme were rural women. Some 45 million families had benefited from this programme so far she further informed. She said that a programme under BISP was planned to provide a woman Rs. one lakh if the head of the family dies. Fizza said that to eradicate poverty in rural areas, Prime Minister Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani realized the concept of 'Aik Hunar, Aik Nagar, she further said. 'Aik Hunar, Aik Nagar is an instution coordinating efforts among craftsmen, designers, organizations of micro-finance, local administration and the provincial governments, she elaborated. She said that Ms. Bhutto had already started Lady Health Workers Programme for women in rural areas. Paying tribute to rural women, Fizza Gilani said that they were playing pivotal role in the national as well as rural economy by playing their major role in agriculture sector. She further said that said that efforts were underway for women development and empowerment but such steps would never succeed until husbands behavior and attitude are not changed. In his welcoming remarks, Lok Virsas Executive Director Khalid Javaid explaining about the functions of his organisation said that the mandate of Lok Virsa is to provide creating opportunities for the welfare and betterment of master artisans, folk artists and rural musicians including women folk, as the real bearers of our rich cultural heritage, with a view to facilitate them to earn a good livelihood by practicing traditional knowledge that they inherited from their forefathers from generation-to- generation. The Chairperson PODA Sameena Nazir also spoke on the occasion and said this year, the theme of the conference titled food security to peace & security has been chosen to highlight the emerging food security challenges in Pakistan, especially in the post-flood context. The Chairperson, National Commission on the Status of Women Ms Anis Haroon stressed that government should mobilize its resources and energies to transform the dream of empowering women and providing them equal opportunities in all walks of life into a reality. Famous singers Arib Azhar and group and some other local artists also performed in a musical show held to mark the day and won a great applause from the audience. A large number of people from different walks of life, in particular women thronged to the venue, expressed solidarity with the rural women and paid rich tributes to them for their untiring efforts and contribution in the development of the country.