Pakistan: Kulsoom Farman

In an intense and unforgiving patriarchal society, Kulsoom Farman has become a role model for women, who are now willing to step outside their homes and even stand for elections.

— Kulsoom Farman

When Kulsoom Farman (born 1957) started working for women's development in her native Baltisan-a mountainous and desperately poor region of Pakistan-a fatwa was issued by a religious leader asking people not to cooperate with her. Today, Kulsoom is a role model for women in this intensely patriarchal society. She has played a vital part in bringing women out of their homes for education and employment, for the betterment of their own lives and that of the community.

When Kulsoom Farman took up a job with the Aga Khan Rural Support Program (AKRSP) in 1986, she became the first woman in Baltistan to be formally employed in a full-time job by an NGO. Her job-to promote the empowerment of her region's women-was by no means easy, since women were the most deprived members of a community surviving through subsistence farming. When Kulsoom began her work, the women did not have the confidence to speak freely, let alone work outside the home. Kulsoom initially met with stiff resistance from both men and women. Over time, she networked with politicians, religious leaders, community leaders, and the women. As a local, she understood the reality, and devised a pragmatic program for women's development. She focused on promoting health and hygiene, and helped women run small businesses, and form their own organizations, nudging them toward literacy and vocational training. Today, more than 6000 women have been trained in agricultural work and livestock and poultry rearing, and have participated in forestry, adult literacy, and vocational training programs. Almost 2000 women have participated in conferences, learning about life beyond Baltistan. Kulsoom has facilitated the formation of 476 women's organizations with more than 12,000 members. Recently, on a new assignment as a poverty coordinator, she helped more than 500 impoverished households take part in mainstream development activities. Traveling to far-flung parts of Baltistan, usually in the company of male colleagues, Kulsoom has become a role model for women in the region. Parents are less inclined to prevent their daughters from seeking education. Within a short time of her starting out, other women began working with NGOs and government organizations. Today, some women are even willing to contest elections.

Aga Khan Rural Support Program (AKRSP)