The Islamic system of Zakat (two and a half % annual tax on all unspent wealth and assets) is designed to benefit widows, orphans, the poor and those in dire need. The majority of well-to-do Muslims in Pakistan pay this tax voluntarily (in addition to the deductions made by the government from all savings accounts of Muslims once a year). Generally these voluntary funds are paid to needy women directly (widows, divorcees, orphan girls, and old women). Zakat funds collected by government are distributed largely to poor women, widows etc. through local Zakat committees which have been established all over the country on a locality, village and ward level. Zakat disbursements were Rs. 1,829 million, Rs. 5,169 million and Rs. 2,731 million in 2000-01, 2001-02 and July-December 2001-03. Women make UP the majority of Zakat beneficiaries.
The Zakat Council and Zakat Foundation are providing assistance primarily to poor and indigent women and children under various schemes.
Guzara Allowance given to 70% women and children.
Food Support programme for the poorest sections has been re-vitalised. Women make up 75 % of the beneficiaries in 1.2 million rural households served by the programme.
Pakistan Bait-ul-Mal is a body corporate, established under PBM ACT, 1991 and started functioning in February, 1992. It is working for the welfare of widows, orphans, disabled, needy and poor persons irrespective of sex, caste, creed or religion.
Bait-ul-Mal is financed from transfer of receipts from tax levied for this purpose, grants from the Federal Government, Provincial Governments, local authorities, national organizations and international agencies and voluntary donations, including sadqat21 and atiyyat22 by individuals, societies, bodies, institutions or organizations; and sale of property of Bait-ul-Mal, whether movable or immovable and income form such property, investments and other assets.
The main objectives of the PBM are to provide financial assistance to destitute and needy widows, orphans, invalids, the infirm and other needy persons; render help to these persons for rehabilitation in various professions or vocations; provide their children assistance to get education and; provide residential accommodation and necessary facilities to these persons.
The Pakistan Bait-ul-Mal runs a number of schemes and projects. Notable among these are nearly 700 Dasktkari (embroidery etc.) Schools - vocational training schools for destitute women – which offer courses in cloth cutting, drafting and tailoring; hand embroidery and knitting and; machine embroidery.
The courses last for six months and two courses are delivered every year. The schools works in two shifts and the maximum number of student trainees does not exceed 30 in each shift. The trainees must come form families living under the poverty line and mostly from female-headed households. The trainees get a stipend of Rs. 10/- daily envisaged as opportunity cost for girls attending these schools. Students with outstanding performance and others who cannot afford their own sewing machines are awarded / donated sewing machines at successful completion of the course.
Additionally the PBM also has an ambitious food support programme the primary beneficiaries of which are women. This programme provides effective social safety net to 1.25 million poorest of the poor households, designed to meet basic nutritional requirements of the poor, covers urban as well as rural areas, recognises women as far as possible as the beneficiary in the household. Under FSP each deserving household gets Rs. 1000/- bi-annually as compensation against rise in the prices of wheat. One of the distinct feature of FSP is the criteria for selection and identification of genuine beneficiaries. The element of political exploitation which undermined social fabric of the society has been replaced by selection of the poorest of poor as FSP beneficiaries. District Administration and Army Monitoring Teams have constituted task force to identify and recommend target groups for FSP subsidy. A sum of Rs. 2.5 billion rupees each was allocated for the years 2000-2001 and 2001-2002 and 3% of it is the share of minorities.
The government’s safety net programmes includes food subsidies, food support programmes, Tawana Pakistan, and low cost housing, the Pakistan Baitul Mal etc. These programmes are directly related to the poorest section of society. The government is increasing their budgetary allocations every year, for example, against an expenditure of Rs 13.75 billion in 2002-03 the current fiscal year budget allocation is Rs 17.67 billion including Rs.13.26 billion for food subsidies alone.
The Government has also taken a number of initiatives to combat poverty at the grassroots level. The Government has established a specialized institution - the Khushhali Bank. The bank has disbursed more than 100,000 loans mostly in rural areas. About forty percent of its clients are women and the recovery rate is more than 95%. The average size of the loan is Rs. 10,000/- (US $ 180/-) and the loans are usually used to start a small business.
The Pakistan Poverty Alleviation Fund (PPAF) is another initiative of the Government to provide microcredit facilities to the rural population, particularly women. The Fund seeks to alleviate poverty and empower the rural and urban poor, by providing them with access to resources and services and helping build community level infrastructure.
The project components are:
Microcredit will provide loans to partner organizations (POs) for on-lending to individuals or groups of individuals who meet the eligibility criteria of the PPAF at rates that ultimately cover their directly attributable credit administrative costs, loan loss, cost of funds and reasonable profit to maintain real value of equity.
Community infrastructure will support, in the form of grants on a cost-sharing basis, small-scale community infrastructure sub-projects to improve the quality of life of the poor. Capacity building of partner organizations will support in the form of grants, capacity building of communities and POS to improve their effectiveness in implementing poverty alleviation programs.
Capacity building of the PPAF will support operating costs, staff training, technical assistance for various studies and cost of fixed assets.
The Fund has a special focus on women. About 36% of its staff and nearly 40% of its beneficiaries are women. The recovery rate of loans is almost 100 percent.
Poverty has a feminine face in Pakistan as in many other developing countries. The poverty level has also increased drastically over the last fifteen years or so and women have borne the brunt of it. However the recent initiatives by the Government and the civil society hold promise of being able to combat this menace to some extent. At the same time these initiatives will have to substantially expanded if the spread of poverty has to effectively be halted and rolled-back. According to the latest figures released by the Economic Survey of Pakistan 2003-2004, the incidence of poverty23 has registered a decrease of 4.2% since 2000-2001. At present the 28.35% of the population is estimated to be living in poverty.