Notes from the Field: Stitching-up Poverty in Pakistan

Gain direct insight from the staff who have supported the communities we work with from our Notes in the Field series. For the first installment our Impact, Results and Learning Manager, Hur Hassnain, reflects on a recent trip to one of the most marginalised parts of Pakistan.

In March 2018, two months after I joined Y Care International as its Impact, Results and Learning Manager, I got the opportunity to conduct a support visit to our DFID funded project on “Improving financial resilience and promoting gender equity in rural Pakistan”. This three-year project ended in March 2018 and was implemented with the help of our local partner Community World Service Asia (CWSA), a well-known humanitarian organisation in Asia.

I was excited to get a chance to meet the people we worked with in this project in Pakistan, a country where I was born, and to work with CWSA whom I shared several coordination meetings with during the 2005 Pakistan earthquake response and recovery.

On March 18th, I landed in Karachi, the fourth most populous city in the world with almost 15 million people living in it. The last time I visited Karachi was 14 years ago for a family trip. It was great to see the progress that has been made in the city, especially in terms of its infrastructure.

The next day, we set off early in the morning to District Umerkot with Razzaque and Zunaira from CWSA. Although Umerkot is only five and a half hours car journey from Karachi, it is one of the most underdeveloped districts in Sindh, with the second highest poverty rates in the province. About 83% of the population is rural and 70% are Hindus (majority scheduled caste) and Christians, who are highly neglected, disadvantaged and lack access to basic services. I have worked in Pakistan for seven years but had never imagined this level of poverty and discrimination. I personally felt like I saw the real face of Pakistan, that you don’t normally see when you visit the big cities, like Karachi. The rural realities and inequalities are completely different.

The climate in Umerkot is extremely hot. It was 40 degrees during my visit. The majority of local people are tenant/subsistence farmers. The main livelihoods include daily agricultural labour, livestock and brick-making. Due to poor crop yields and climate insecurity, many farmers are indebted for life to the feudal landlords (a relatively small group of politically active and powerful landowners) and this goes generation to generation. People rarely have any reliable alternative livelihoods or sufficient coping mechanisms.

Gender inequality is at its extreme with a variety of traditional and harmful practices, including violence against women and mobility restrictions resulting in limited access to health and education. The voices of these rural women articulated and demonstrated the dynamics of poverty at household level. These women had inherent potential to improve their own lives but were significantly constrained with major socio-economic barriers. They lacked key assets, including social, physical, financial and human assets, and access to public services.

Y Care International’s project targeted these rural women with the assumption that engaging them would increase their household income, reduce poverty and give them equal standing to their counterparts.

Building Skills in the Community

The project used a three-pronged approach including: building women’s skills in local embroidery; connecting them with the local and urban markets; and breaking the barriers of harmful, traditional gender norms and behaviours by working with both men and women in the communities. The project engaged high level design institutions in Pakistan including Indus Valley School of Arts Karachi and Textile Institute of Pakistan for skills provision and engagement with the market. Moreover, the venture established and trained gender committees and activists in 22 villages to deal with the harmful gender practices outlined above.

In just a year and a half, the women artisans trained, under the Skill Development and Adult Literacy Training, generated a total income of PKR 8.9 million (USD 79,000) (source: project monitoring data verified by the independent evaluation). This additional income not only supported their households, but the circulation of money in the district also strengthened the local economy. As a result the average household annual income grew from $936 to 2,596 (177% increase).

In just three years, the project has enabled 94% of households in the 22 selected villages to live above the poverty line of $2 a day, compared to only 3% in 2015.

With the additional income and support from the gender activists, who were mainly male members of the community, women are more empowered economically and in decision-making processes. They are playing a prominent role in their households, making them feel more respected and a valuable member in the family. Reema, a 17-year-old girl I met told me that she is already making her wedding dress with the skills learnt from this project, with golden embroidery on a white dress.


Sajan from Umerkot said, “I broke a promise I made to a friend to marry my 14-year-old daughter. It makes me happy to see that the young girl can resume her education.”

Women, who were completely reliant on the male member of their family, mainly working in Karachi, and who had no money to utilise in emergencies now have their own earnings and an authority over their savings.

Overall, I witnessed a magnitude of evidence through the upgrade of confidence and self grooming of women and reduced vulnerability to economic shocks, stresses and social risks that included gender inequality, discrimination and power at the intra-household level.

“Change from “0” to “1” is a change by infinity; every other change is smaller” -Unknown

The biggest success of the project was to engage the most marginalised women in economic activities and empowering them to serve as role models for younger girls and their parents. Women serving as role models and raising career and educational aspirations for younger girls and their parents in these ultra-poor communities is a change from “0” to “1”.

Y Care and CWSA wants to take this work forward by raising more money and investing in a social enterprise called ‘Taanka’ which means ‘stitch’ in Urdu language. Taanka is established to promote the finest handcrafted amalgamation of contemporary designs with traditional stitches, produced by rural women artisans from interior Sindh, Pakistan. Learn more about Taanka and how it is stitching-up the poverty in Pakistan by clicking [HERE].

If you have any questions or comments about the Stitching Up Poverty in Pakistan project then we’ll be running a Twitter Q&A at 1.30pm on Thursday 28th June 2018 with Hur Hussain, the Impact, Results and Learning Manager at Y Care International and creator of this podcast. Send your questions to us by tweeting @YCareInt with the hashtag #AskHur. 

Share this article