BISP Excluded Single Women From Eligibility

BISP News Update: In 2008, the federal government introduced the Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) to tackle poverty and empower women by providing financial aid to those living below the poverty line. However, the program has drawn criticism for excluding single women without male family members from its benefits.

In a society where a woman’s value is often tied to her marital status, unmarried daughters can face challenges. This exclusion leaves them without the support they need, both from their families and the state.

While divorced and widowed women in low-income situations are considered eligible beneficiaries, single women in similar circumstances are intentionally left out. This policy places a heavier burden on female breadwinners like Nasreen Bibi, who supports her younger siblings after her parents’ passing. Nasreen, a domestic worker, expressed her frustration, stating that she is not eligible for the cash transfers provided by BISP simply because she is unmarried.

Bisp ignores single women
BISP Excluded Single Women From Eligibility 3

This issue is not unique to Nasreen. Farhat Jabeen, another beneficiary of BISP, pointed out that many single women in her community, who are the sole providers for their families, are also denied assistance solely due to their unmarried status. This exclusion, Farhat argues, is discriminatory and needs to be addressed by the government.

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Zulfikar Sheikh, the Programme Director for BISP, explained that the program’s initial focus was on providing cash transfers to ever-married women, excluding never-married women. This decision was made with the intention of directly aiding homemakers in low-income households.

However, women’s rights activists argue against this policy, asserting that it can lead to unintended social problems such as begging and involvement in illicit activities. Salman Abid, the head of a women’s rights organization, emphasized that without proper support, unmarried low-income women may be forced into undesirable means of earning a livelihood.

Abid’s concerns are backed by sociological studies that highlight a strong link between increasing household poverty and women turning to illicit activities for survival. He suggests that the program should be expanded to include single women and the unmarried daughters of deceased BISP beneficiaries.

Currently, BISP covers around 9 million households through 452 centers, providing cash transfers several times a year to ever-married women. Unfortunately, the program does not extend these benefits to the unmarried daughters of deceased beneficiaries.

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Zulfikar Sheikh clarified that the program’s goal is to empower low-income women, aligning with the vision of Benazir Bhutto. It relies on the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) to verify eligibility, registering only women who have a living parent and are ever married. This verification process is conducted annually through an online survey, ensuring assistance is directed to those who meet these criteria.

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