In southern Pakistan, marginalized women seek empowerment through home ownership

Pummy Kohli stitches a cloth at her new house build under the Low-Cost Houses program in Tando Bago area, Badin district of Sindh province, southern Pakistan on April 18, 2022. (AN Photo/Zulfiqar Kunbhar)
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Updated 26 April 2022
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In southern Pakistan, marginalized women seek empowerment through home ownership

  • Under government program, 16,000 women have already received homes in the poorest regions of Sindh province
  • Pakistan lacks 10 million housing units, 60 percent of which are needed for low-income families

BADIN, SINDH: Shabnam Pitafi has never lived in a place she could call her own and never dreamt that one day she would, until last month, when she received a brick house under a scheme to empower some of Pakistan’s poorest women.
The 30-year-old farmer comes from Tando Bago area in the Badin district of southern Sindh province, where the local government is helping poor rural women build homes with ownership rights.
The Low-Cost Houses (LHC) program was launched in the districts of Sukkur, Shikarpur, Kashmore and Jacobabad in 2009, and later extended also to Badin, Ghotki, Khairpur, Mirpurkhas, Sanghar, Thatta, Tharparkar and Umerkot.
The government pays each beneficiary Rs165,000 ($880) for the construction of a two-room brick home.
“This lifetime achievement of owning a house brings very special feelings to me and my family,” Pitafi told Arab News.
It also changed her status not only among the immediate, but also extended relative.
“Since I own a house now, I can influence my husband in decision-making,” she said. “I have planned a party this Eid and invited my parents and relatives.”
Authorities say the women selected for the housing program all fall under the “poorest of the poor” category.
Ninety-five percent of them work on farms, according to the Sindh Rural Support Organization, which implements the project.




Workers construct a brick house under the Low-Cost Houses program in Tando Bago area, Badin district of Sindh province, southern Pakistan on April 18, 2022. (AN Photo/Zulfiqar Kunbhar)

“For generations, most of these women were living along with their families at landlords’ lands or slums,” said Ghulam Rasool Samejo, the organization’s regional general manager.
To acquire land for construction — which costs around $430 — some of the women have sold their livestock, while some others were lucky to receive small plots from their employers. In Badin, 500 houses under the LCH program were built on land donated by 30 local landlords.
One of them was Ishrat Ali Pitafi, who gave a plot with ownership rights to a family that had worked for him for over a decade.
“This landless family has worked as farmers on my agricultural lands for 15 years,” he told Arab News. “I am glad that finally they will get a new house.”
Each of the houses built under the program has two rooms, a toilet, veranda and drainage.
For Pummy Kohli, this means security her family had not known before, as they used to live in a mud house on their landlord’s land in Tando Bego. The hut was regularly washed off by rains during the monsoon season.




A newly constructed house under the Low-Cost Houses program in Badin district of Sindh province, southern Pakistan on April 20, 2022. (Photo courtesy: Sindh Rural Support Organization)

“In the past, rains damaged my mud house, forcing me and my family to migrate,” the 35-year-old mother of five said. “Moving to a permanent place will benefit my children. It will ensure the continuity of their education and improve their health.”
So far, 16,000 houses have been built out of the 27,000 planned under the program, Pervez Ahmed Chandio, director general at the Sindh People’s Poverty Reduction, Planning and Development Department, told Arab News.
While lifechanging for thousands of families who otherwise might never have afforded this kind of security, it is still a drop in the ocean of needs in Pakistan, a country that lacks 10 million housing units — 60 percent of which are needed for low-income families.
“The government needs to increase the number of such houses. In a country which needs 10 million houses, provision of houses in thousands is not enough,” Dr. Kaiser Bengali, economist and former development adviser to the Sindh chief minister, told Arab News.
But he admitted that the program was already a “revolutionary step” and one that also improved women’s chances of earning, as having their own place they could start small businesses.
“This will work for women’s empowerment, as owning a house means a sense of security,” he told Arab News. “Nobody will throw the owner out of her house now.”


Turkmenistan foreign minister arrives in Islamabad today amid Pakistan trade push

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Turkmenistan foreign minister arrives in Islamabad today amid Pakistan trade push

  • There has been a flurry of visits, investment talks and economic activity between Pakistan and Central Asian states recently
  • Pakistan hopes to enhance its role as pivotal trade and transit hub connecting landlocked Central Asia to the rest of the world

ISLAMABAD: Foreign Minister of Turkmenistan Rasit Meredow will arrive in Pakistan on a three-day visit today, Monday, Pakistani state media reported, amid Islamabad’s efforts to boost trade with Central Asian states.

Pakistan hopes to leverage its strategic geopolitical position and enhance its role as a pivotal trade and transit hub connecting the landlocked Central Asian republics with the rest of the world.

In recent months, there has been a flurry of visits, investment talks and economic activity between Pakistan and Central Asian states, including meetings with leaders from Uzbekistan and Azerbaijan.

FM Meredow will hold extensive talks with Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Ishaq Dar and call on Pakistani leadership during the visit, the state-run Radio Pakistan broadcaster reported on Sunday.

“Talks between the two sides will cover all aspects of bilateral relations,” the report read. “They will also exchange views on regional and global developments.”

Located in a landlocked but resource-rich region, Central Asian countries need better access to regional markets including Pakistan, China, India, and the countries of West Asia.

Islamabad is seeking to bolster trade and investment relations with allies to stabilize its fragile $350 billion economy as it faces an acute balance of payment crisis amid soaring inflation and surging external debt.

The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor project, under which Beijing has pledged around $65 billion in energy, infrastructure and other projects in Pakistan, also presents a strategic opportunity for Central Asian states to transport their goods more easily to regional and global markets.


Actor Noor Xarmina crowned ‘Miss Universe Pakistan 2024’

Updated 21 July 2024
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Actor Noor Xarmina crowned ‘Miss Universe Pakistan 2024’

  • The 29-year-old venture capitalist-turned-actor hails from Islamabad and recently moved back to Pakistan from abroad
  • Xarmina says she wants to represent Pakistan on international forums, bring about a change for women

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani actor Noor Xarmina has been declared ‘Miss Universe Pakistan 2024,’ after which she is poised to represent Pakistan at the 73rd Miss Universe 2024 pageant in November this year.
The announcement of Xarmina’s successful bid was made in a video published on the official YouTube channel of Miss Universe on Saturday.
The 29-year-old venture capitalist-turned-actor, who has studied biology and business, hails from Islamabad and recently moved to Pakistan.
In the video shared on Miss Universe YouTube channel, she said she wanted to bring about a “positive change” in her home country.
“I want to be an agent for positive change in two respects. The first is for our country. Pakistan is scarcely represented internationally across so many industries and I want to enhance our representation on an international stage,” Xarmina said.
“In the second respect, I want to have change for women in our country. Pakistan needs strong female leaders that can mobilize its women and empower them to create positive change in society.”
Asked if Pakistan would support Xarmina’s bid at international beauty pageants, Pakistani Information Minister Ataullah Tarar said if Xarmina has played a role in projecting Pakistan’s soft image, then a discussion can be held on this.
“I do not know about that woman, what background she has and what professional achievements she has before this, they can be looked into. If she has played her role for Pakistan’s image, Pakistan’s soft image, and Pakistan’s development, then discussion can be held on this,” he told reporters in Islamabad on Sunday.
Tarar noted that Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif recently invited Naila Kiyani, a UAE-based Pakistani mountaineer, and appreciated her.
“So, we definitely believe that whatever achievement one has, it should be recognized,” he added.
Last year, Erica Rabin became the first Pakistani woman to be crowned Miss Universe Pakistan. Prior to that, no woman from Muslim-majority Pakistan ever participated in the Miss Universe pageant.
Miss Universe Pakistan is a national beauty pageant franchise organized by the Yugen Group of Dubai to select a representative from Pakistan for the Miss Universe pageant.


Minister denies ex-PM Khan claims, says he lives in ‘presidential suite’ inside Pakistani jail

Updated 21 July 2024
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Minister denies ex-PM Khan claims, says he lives in ‘presidential suite’ inside Pakistani jail

  • In an interview with a UK publication, Khan claimed he was ‘confined in a 7ft by 8ft death cell, typically reserved for terrorists’ and being denied basic rights
  • Information Minister Ataullah Tarar says Khan has an exercise bicycle, a dedicated kitchen and holds three meetings weekly with his family, friends and aides

ISLAMABAD: Information Minister Ataullah Tarar on Sunday denied jailed former prime minister Imran Khan’s claims that he was being denied basic prisoner rights in Pakistan, saying that the ex-premier’s “presidential suite” inside Rawalpindi’s Adiala Jail was much better than several middle-class homes in the South Asian country.
Khan, 71, has been imprisoned at Adiala Jail since August last year. All four jail sentences he received ahead of a February national election in Pakistan have been overturned or suspended in recent weeks.
He remains in jail after authorities this month issued fresh arrest warrants for him in three cases linked to violence against the military and other state installations that erupted following his brief arrest in May 2023, according to his party.
In an interview with UK publication The Sunday Times this week, Khan claimed he was “confined in a 7ft by 8ft death cell, typically reserved for terrorists” and being denied “basic prisoner and human rights such as visitation.”
Speaking at a press conference in Islamabad, Tarar denied the claims and described Khan’s prison cell as the “presidential suite” of a five-star hotel, which offered a number of “amenities.”
“This convicted person (Khan) who is the ex-chairman of PTI (Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party), he lives in a presidential suite. He has an exercise bicycle at his disposal,” the information minister said.
“He has a walking gallery at his disposal, he has a kitchen at his disposal and he gives a proper, lavish menu of what he wants to eat in the entire day. He holds three meetings weekly with his lawyers, with his friends, family, with his political leaders.”
Tarar said these were not the things normally found inside prisons and that the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz-led government in Pakistan had never victimized its political opponents.
He criticized Khan for mistreatment of his political opponents during his tenure as the prime minister from 2018 till 2022.
“Mr Khan himself incarcerated people and put them in death cells, including women. And he was responsible and he used to openly state that ‘I will not let any medicine get through to them in the prison. I will not let them have home food, I will not let them meet people’,” the minister recounted.
“He used to state it very openly and now, he is having a lavish lifestyle inside the jail. Your presidential suite inside Adiala jail is better than several middle-class homes.”
Khan’s convictions had ruled the 71-year-old out of the Feb. 8 general election as convicted felons cannot run for public office under Pakistani law. Arguably Pakistan’s most popular politician, Khan says all cases against him are motivated to keep him out of politics.
An anti-terrorism court this month canceled his bail in one of the May 9, 2023 cases registered against him and thousands of his supporters. His PTI party called it a “gimmick” aimed at prolonging his imprisonment.


Family, activists call for recovery of Hindu girl who went missing in Pakistan’s Sindh in 2021

Updated 21 July 2024
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Family, activists call for recovery of Hindu girl who went missing in Pakistan’s Sindh in 2021

  • Seven-year-old Priya Kumari went missing on August 19, 2021 in Sukkur city of Pakistan’s Sindh province
  • In the past, the province has reported cases of forced conversions of Hindu girls and marriages with abductors

KARACHI: The family of Priya Kumari, a Hindu girl who went missing in Pakistan’s southern Sindh province in 2021, and rights activists have called on provincial authorities to ensure her release and sought a clear deadline in this regard.
Seven-year-old Kumari went missing in Sindh’s Sukkur on August 19, 2021. While her family suspects no one, the southern Pakistani province has previously reported cases of forced conversions and marriage of Hindu girls, with those from poor families and low castes largely targeted.
The Minority Rights March, Aurat March, Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, Women Democratic Front, Priya Kumari Bazyabi Committee and other civil society organizations this week held a protest in Sindh’s provincial capital of Karachi to demand her release.
On Saturday, Luke Victor, a human rights defender, led a delegation, comprising Kumari’s parents, Raj Kumar and Reena Kumari, and other activists, to meet with Sindh Home Minister Zia-ul-Hassan Lanjar. They said the minister claimed Kumari was alive but offered no solid assurance for her release.
“While we welcome the details and progress shared by the JIT (joint investigation team) after three years [of Kumari’s abduction], we expect the JIT and the Sindh Home Minister to be able to provide more than just a vague promise of ‘soon’ and to commit to a specific date by which they expect to recover Priya safely,” the protest organizers said in a statement on Saturday.
“Open-ended discussions and vague commitments have occurred too many times without any results and have only eroded the trust once placed in the Sindh Police, which can only be restored with the safe recovery of Priya Kumari without further delay.”
During the meeting on Saturday, Kumari’s parents submitted a written application to the Sindh home minister for their daughter’s recovery and a transparent investigation into her abduction.
“There are hopes. The child is alive, and we have evidence,” the minister is heard saying in a video of the meeting.
“I cannot commit regarding the timeframe. She could be found tomorrow or within a week. We are trying to recover her soon,” he says, when asked for an assurance.
Luke, who led the delegation to the meeting, said on Sunday the “vague” statement suggested the authorities were either “lying or unwilling to act.”
“They are either lying about having traced Priya Kumari or they are unable to take action against the culprit, who could be influential,” he said.


Pakistan recovered over $370 million in nationwide campaign against power theft — report

Updated 21 July 2024
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Pakistan recovered over $370 million in nationwide campaign against power theft — report

  • The South Asian nation’s power sector has long been plagued by high rates of electricity theft and distribution losses
  • Authorities have arrested 83,000 individuals for involvement in power theft since the announcement of a campaign this year

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan has recovered more than $370 million in a nationwide campaign against electricity theft, Pakistani state media reported on Sunday.
The South Asian nation’s power sector has been plagued by high rates of electricity theft and distribution losses, resulting in accumulating debts across the production chain.
In March, Pakistan’s Interior Minister Mohsin Naqvi announced that authorities had launched a “massive crackdown” against electricity and gas theft, aiming for fair distribution of utilities and access to all citizens.
“In a countrywide campaign against power pilferage, 105 billion ($377 million) rupees have been recovered,” the state-run Radio Pakistan broadcaster reported. “More than 83,000 individuals involved in power theft have been arrested.”
From June 30 till July 17, authorities collected more than Rs1 billion from power pilferers in Punjab’s Lahore, Gujranwala, Faisalabad and Multan cities as well as in the federal capital of Islamabad, according to the report.
Another Rs430 million were recovered from Peshawar, Hyderabad, Sukkur and Quetta during this period. This was a result of actions taken by the government to revive the country’s economy and bring people out of the power crisis.
Relevant institutions were determined to continue their operations until complete elimination of power theft from the country, it added.
The report comes days after Pakistan reached a staff-level agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a new $7 billion loan.
Energy sector debt has already been a main issue that the IMF has highlighted in tackling Pakistan’s fiscal deficit, telling the South Asian nation to prevent further accumulation of circular debt in its power sector arising from subsidies and unpaid bills.
The lender has asked to implement reforms to reduce costs by improving electricity transmission and distribution, moving captive power into the grid, improving governance, and combating theft.