Balochistan is Pakistan’s largest province by area and smallest by population. Undermined by poverty, political turmoil, and security challenges, Balochistan records the lowest Human Development Index (HDI) in Pakistan, with a staggering 58% of its population living below the poverty line. In Balochistan’s traditionally patriarchal and tribal society, it is the rural women who bear the brunt. According to the Pakistan Maternal Mortality Survey (PMMS 2019), the maternal mortality rate in Balochistan is 298 per 100,000 live births due to restricted mobility and limited access to healthcare services. In rural Balochistan, female literacy stands at a mere 17%, compared to the province’s overall literacy rate of 46% (PSLM 2019-2020). The government of Balochistan is increasingly focusing on women’s empowerment and gender equality in pursuit of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
It is in this challenging landscape that the Balochistan Rural Support Development and Community Empowerment (BRACE) Programme, a collaborative effort by the European Union, Government of Balochistan (GoB), Balochistan Rural Support Programme (BRSP), National Rural Support Programme (NRSP), and Rural Support Programme Network (RSPN) was initiated to demonstrate peoples’ potential in uplifting themselves. The rural poor women have been at the core of the programme.
This co-financed initiative, supported by the European Union and the Government of Balochistan with a grant of EUR 45 million from the EU and a Rs.500 million contribution from GoB, aligns with the government’s ambitious goals of socio-economic development. It covers 240 rural Union Councils across ten districts of Balochistan. Based on the RSP’s approach to social mobilisation, the programme has organised 290,000 rural households, into a network of 26,375 Community Organisations (COs) at the Mohalla level; 5,739 Village Organisations (VOs) at the village level; and 237 Local Support Organisations (LSOs) at the union council level. Women make 44% of members of the Community Organisations.
Since its inception, the BRACE Program has been dedicated to uplifting the rural poor women through active community mobilisation, capacity-building opportunities, establishing essential linkages, and facilitating access to financial services.
The programme recognises that economic independence is a cornerstone of women’s empowerment. BRACE Programme is facilitating skill development and vocational training for young women, enabling them to enter the workforce and contribute to their household income. Under the Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) component of the BRACE Programme, a total of 3,187 community members have been trained in different skills, 58% of beneficiaries of them women.
Based on the principle of equity, the BRACE Programme provides financial support to poor families through the Income Generating Grants (IGG) and Community Investment Fund (CIF). The Programme has disbursed Rs.668.5 million to the 13,968 extremely poor beneficiaries, 72% of them women. In addition, an average loan of Rs.30163 has been provided to 14,613 qualifying members, again 62% of them women. These community loan takers have primarily invested loans in enterprise, agriculture, and livestock sectors. Similarly, A 2021 third-party assessment by the Institute for Public Opinion Research (IPOR) confirmed that 45% of IG grant beneficiaries, 47% of interest-free loan takers and 51% of TVET graduates had pulled their families out of poverty.
Under the programme, a community awareness toolkit provides valuable life lessons to these women every time they meet. The kit comprises 12 sessions focusing on maternal and child healthcare, immunisations, spacing in childbirth, diet and nutrition, HIV AIDS, hepatitis, hygiene and hand washing practices, clean water and sanitation, disaster risk reduction, climate change, education, and legal protection of fundamental rights. Increased participation of rural women in decision-making in their own households has been the best result thus far. By encouraging women to run for office in local government elections and providing them with training in leadership and advocacy, the programme is amplifying women’s voices and ensuring their representation in community affairs. While gender parity in politics is still far from being achieved, this shift is a sign of a more inclusive and equitable future.
After six years of successful implementation, the BRACE Programme is concluding this September, but its impact is already visible. More girls are attending school, more women are engaged in income-generating activities, and more women are now decision-makers in their homes and local councils. Balochistan is witnessing a slow but steady transformation. These efforts serve as models for how targeted interventions, community engagement, and women’s participation can drive positive change. In numerous pockets, Balochistan’s women, once marginalised, are now on a path toward social, economic, and political empowerment, and Balochistan’s flagship EU Programme, its implementing RSPs and Women Development Department, are prouder than ever to claim a role in that legacy!