Rural Development Initiatives in the Northern Pakistan through a Lens of A Dedicated Community Leader: Madam Bibi Husni Shares Experiences on Women Empowerment

May 18, 2020

By Fazal Amin Beg
Imagine an extremely backward mountain society which was isolated from the rest of the world before the formal opening of the Karakoram Highway in 1978 and it had become only four years when a revolutionary rural development program is introduced with the name of Aga Khan Rural Support program (prominently known by its abbreviated and brand name as AKRSP) within Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN).
Excluding political development within its mandate, AKRSP initiated its socioeconomic development programs within Gilgit-Baltistan and Chitral region. Exercising and experimenting its participatory model of development from the grassroots level (bottom-up approach in a sharp contrast to top-down model), the community of Gilgit-Baltistan and Chitral wonderfully contributed towards bringing change in their own fortunes and stood as a giant model before the developing world. A secrecy of the success of the giant program could be seen in line with organizing and mobilizing hundreds of thousands of the community members around thousands of social organizations (village organizations for men and women organizations), identifying the communal development issues and projects by the communities themselves through their respective social organizations; and developing the capacity of the related leaders and members within the social organizations around different interventions such as agro-pastoral and entrepreneurial projects (natural and cultural resources mobilization and management at broader scale), women empowerment , good governance practices within the social organizations, basic infrastructure development, and the like.
Drastic societal development were evidenced, particularly within its first 12 years (1982 to 1994 under the fabulous leadership of its founding General Manager Shoaib Sultan Khan) and the model of rural development inspired and compelled the Government of Pakistan to take same kind of initiatives in its four provinces such as Punjab, Khyber-Pukhtunkhwa, Sind and Balochistan.
After Shoaib Sultan Khan, series of General Managers appeared on the radar of AKRSP such as Hussain Wali Khan, Steve Rasmusen , Izhar Ali Hunzai, Abdul Malik, Muzafaruddin and the like. But, it’s noteworthy that the community members at all places in the region invaluably rate at highest level the contribution of its founding General Manager who has had a permanent print in the hearts and minds of the vast majority of the community with regard to the approaches in and delivery of the various projects at the grassroots level.
Apart from establishment of the First MicroFinance Banks, a second tier of social organizations was also introduced by AKRSP in the first half of 2000 where clusters of social organizations (men and women) along with some village-based umbrella organizations were formed. These were termed as Local Support Organizations (LSO that mandated itself to be legal entity with patronization and support of the earlier social organizations in a broader context. An LSO was primarily founded at the grassroots administrative structure of the Government such as Union Council level; but in some cases, the criteria was neglected and it was also formed on watershed level (need-basis) because of the scattered geographical locations. Though, many loopholes could be found in them, the objective here is not to be critical towards them rather to provide background information to the audience and on the development initiatives contributed by the communities of Gilgit-Baltistan and Chitral Region with the great help, support and facilitation of AKRSP.
This small contribution is therefore with regard to rural development and women’s role and empowerment. For this purpose, an invaluable reflection of a women leader, Madam Bibi Husni Khan (founding President of Women Organization, Gulmit Center, is presented here as a case that is purely based on decades long experiences from the field. She wonderfully sums up the rural development issues and development in a nutshell.
Madam Bibi Husni Khan Daughter of Muhammad Sayab Khan and wife of Zafarullah Beg belongs to Gulmit, the headquarters of Upper Hunza valley. She was born in 1938 when Mir Nazim Khan had passed away. At present, she is 82 years old. She has contributed to her community in different realms; more particularly helped her husband in treating the patients from all over the region who had issues of bone fractures, cracks, and joint dislocation and so on. Along with her domestic chores for being a mother and second head of the family, she also served voluntarily for a long time the Aga Khan Women Volunteers Corps, Aga Khan Arbitration and Reconciliation Board, and other forums of her community.
When she was 44 years old, Madam Bibi Husni Khan got the responsibility of Women Organization Gulmit (Center) and served this organization in voluntary capacity as the President for 26 years (from 1984 to 2012). She impressively analyzes the condition of women of the area, in particular and other segments of the society in general by keeping in view the intervention of the social organizations introduced in her area, especially her own organization (Gulmit Center). The talk offers a great deal of insights into the situations before and after AKRSP model of rural development on the one hand and women empowerment on the other.
It was last May 2019, when Madam Bibi Husni had returned from Karachi and was in Islamabad with her family members, she has talked and reflected on her societal development. I thus got an opportunity to watch and listened to the video clip. I found it highly valuable and opted to properly transcribe it in Wakhi and translate in English. Through the Eagles World Channel and on this website, I’m thus sharing her marvelous talk. Hope the audience will enjoy and try to get a deeper insight out of her talk on societal and cultural changes through her lens of development encounters.
Click on the following link of Eagles World to watch the video talk:

Rural Development, Women Empowerment and Societal Change
From here onward, I’d like the readers to read her talk in her own words in a natural order that also entails the English translation down to each paragraph.

Bismillah-ir Rahman-ir Rahim
In the name of God, the most Benevolent, the most merciful.

Z̃hũ nungi Bibi Husni. Wuzem Gulmit en. Kh̃ũynan tanzim-e Sadarem wuz wist-e shadh sol wũrek̃hk. AKRSP ki cog̃hdi wezde, sakev z̃ereng Sadar, Sekret̃eri neveshte.
My name is Bibi Husni. I’m from Gulmit. For over 26 years, I’ve served (in voluntary capacity) the Women Organization (WO) of Gulmit center(from 1984-2010). When AKRSP was initiated in the area, we were chosen as President and Secretary.
Bachatev sak yẽk̃hk k̃hak remet.sabzi k̃hakev sak remet. Kũli chiz-e bijev (tag̃hm) saker wozomd. Darakhtevev saker wozomd. Itifoqev sak yẽk̃hk k̃hak remet. Hadra’n tu sak cẽbũr wist k̃hũynan alwagini,canev vite cẽbũr sad.
We were mobilized for saving money. We were given training of producing vegetables. Seeds of all types were provided to us. Plants were supplied to us. We were moved towards organizing ourselves. We were 80 women members in the beginning but later we grew up to 400.
Bogh’vev sak k̃hak remet. Ya Shueyb Sultan wezde k̃he sak’ri bogh gok̃ht. Hada bogh’ves̃h dhascẽbũr sol k̃hater dra mihnat kert. Khũshig̃h’ves̃h kert.
We were facilitated in developing common nurseries (of the women orrganization). Shoaib Sultan Khan supported us with regard to the nursery. In the nursery, the members put their utmost efforts. They would then get rejoiced.
Ham’ves̃h tatvũrũtisht wezde,hamev k̃hũynanisht. Yav-e zẽmanistes̃h be wezde khũshig̃h-e mes̃h, ne ki k̃hater’ves̃h chiz hoziri gok̃ht. Khũshig̃h’ves̃h dra’r kert. Bachatev yek̃hk kert. Ca’nev k̃hater foyda gok̃ht, k̃hũ kard̃’ver. Woz dẽ liman en itifoq ghafch vite.yi rorev shak dẽ liman, limanev ne diyetk. Itifoqev k̃hetk.
Male family members and the children of the WO members would also come to the nursery. It wasn’t so all those people would get any remuneration. They would become happy as the members were guided with regard to savings.they ultimately took benefit out of it and the profits were given to them on their personal saving cards. There had never come a chance for the members to get disorganized and instead they were so united.
Spo holot z̃ereng tu mis en, sakes̃h mirgig̃h-ror liman wind woz yi zindagig̃h-e ror kam khalg-e liman wind. AKRSP ki coghdi wezg,dẽ har hafta’v dẽ liman en itifoq k̃hak remet.har hafta’ẽs̃h sake bachat nik̃hit. Haniv zẽmunev be ce, wist-e dhas sol vite, hafta-e bachates̃h dẽ spo tanzim, Gũlmit en Sent̃er-e k̃hũynanisht, yastes̃h yo jama caren.
The interaction of women together before the WO was so they would meet each other mostly during a death ritual or wedding ceremonies. But when the AKRSP initiative reached in the area, women would get together and meet each other weekly . We would have our weekly meetings and savings. Though, at present, it becomes more than 30 years for WO Gulmit (Center), our members regularly meet and do their savings.
K̃he nivev saker drakhtev wozomd. Olũwev k̃hater go. Savzi’vev sak ỹk̃hk kert. Har qism-e drakh’vev wozomd. Cherri’ev wozomd, mũrev wozomd,bodomev wozomd. Chizev ki wozomd,kũkhten vite k̃he, kuyen ne tu z̃ereng drakhtisht ki kũk̃hten mũr wost, yoy kũk̃hten cherri wost, khoy kũk̃hten bodom wost.

We were provided plants. We were trained in potatoes cultivation and growing of vegetables. Variety of plants were supplied to us such as cherry, apple, almond and others. Whatsoever was brought, everyone became self-sufficient. Earlier, it wasn’t the situation that all peple would possess apple, all would have cherry or all would have almond.
Hanivi kũk̃hten, ce Kũmars en rek̃hk Gozeri, wuzes̃h da k̃hũ diyor-e qisa carem. Kũk̃hteni cherri, kũkhteni mũr, kũk̃hteni s̃hũfolũw. Har qism-e miywa’vev wozomd, chũwan’vev wozomd k̃he nivi kũk̃ht drakhdor Ya mis wakht’ni ce, ya spo kona chũwanisht tu, kuyes̃h ca’n k̃hater foyda dez̃hd, kuyes̃h ney dez̃hd.
Now, all families from Kũmaris to goz (within my village in Gulmit) all have cherries, all have apples and all have peaches.Various varieties of fruits were introduced in the village and all peple are thus enriched in possessing the fruit trees. Earlier, there were old variety of apricot trees. Some people would benefit from them and some would not.
g̃hũw’v-e tarbiyatev sak rat, yowev be saker wozomd. Kerk-e tarbiyatev rat, kerkev saker wozomd. Kũli chizev saker wozomd.
We were provided cows from the down country and we were trained how to tend them. We were proved chickens and given training how to raise them.
K̃hũynanes̃h ne disht ki ya ripyayi ce sokht? Kuyen ki yav-e shoharisht foji tu, yav-e ne dishetu ki panz̃ ripyayi cereng?Yi ripyayi cereng? Hada tanzimev ki awalgini wezde, haz̃i abota’n da vite ki yem yi ripyayi ce sokht, panz̃i cereng, ya dhas et sadi da k̃hũ jay.yo’ves̃h tag ne disht.
All things were provided to us. Women would not know that how was the money? Those whose husbands would serve the military, they won’t recognize, that how was the five rupees note? Or how was the note of one rupee when they entered in the WO in the beginning. We would thus get confused in recognizing the notes that how was the one rupee note? How was the five rupees note? And get aside the currency notes of rupees ten and a hundred, which they won’t recognize at all.
Hadraev kũl chiz-e tarbiyat got, yekk̃hkev vite k̃he,k̃hat’rev bachat kert. K̃hũynan’veni niv da bank paysa. Tẽ k̃hũ zodbũd’vev niv chiz zor nast chizes̃h ki yav-e zẽman’v-e zarũt wost, yashtes̃h rec̃hen tẽ k̃hũ tanzim’nes̃h nik̃hinden, k̃hũ zẽmanveres̃h randen.k̃hũ khun-e zarũrates̃h pura caren.
it was this WO where the non-literate women learned from each other and got training. And they did saving for themselves.each woman has thus their money saved in the bank. They are no more dependent upon their husbands.whatsoever the need of their children is, they draw money from their WO and provide it to their children. They fulfil the needs of their house.
Ta khun holot z̃erng tu, z̃ereng khunisht be tu, ki g̃huz’ves̃h be ne got. Z̃ereng khunisht be tu ki s̃hapik’ves̃h be ne got, spo yoder. Niv wezde kũk̃hti barobar vitk.
Internal condition of the households was alarming as some of them won’t even get the firewood. As we recall our memory, there were certain householders they would not get proper food. Now, all people (households) have relatively equal status.
Ta’limen ya lecer, spo zẽmanisht, spo nũpũsishtev ce, yashtev d k̃hũ jay, yashtes̃h niv k̃hater ta’lim caren, yav’ni alag ya’ni vẽdekisht.Wu’s̃h bitalim nan’v et dheg̃hdev et k̃hũy’v-e qisa carem.Hayasht’ves̃h tumer khũshig̃h mes̃h en wezde k̃hat’rev bachat kert.
Get aside the literate women such as our daughters and our granddaughters, they have their own domain as they get education, and have a separate ways of life. I talk here about the non-literate womenfolk of Gulmit. They would come happily to attend the meetings of their WO and develop their savings.
Wist-e shadh solev bachat kert, lekin ya bachati ce ghales̃h be k̃hater yow caren. K̃hat’res̃h ca’n nik̃hinden. Yowev niv band ne k̃hetk. Nives̃h z̃ereng k̃hater ca’n foyda dũrzen.
For 26 years, they saved their money but they still continue to do saving and also draw the money. This system hasn’t ceased and we still get benefits out of it.
Tẽ k̃hũ zodbũd’vev zor nast, tẽ k̃hũ vũrũt’vev, tẽ k̃hũ pet’rev zor nast. Mawlo yet zariya gok̃ht sak k̃hũynan’ver. Niven ce, sak k̃hat skẽ k̃hũ bachat k̃hũ zẽmanev, bosob majbũr wocen k̃he po zẽmaneves̃h joy’ven.
They are not dependent on their husbands, brothers, sons or others. The Lord made WO as a source for us. Now, around our own savings, we do support our children in education in times of compulsion.
haz̃ereng khunisht tey ki yave zodbũdveni bachat nast, yashtev nokarig̃hi nast,zimindorig̃hi, likin yav-e zodbũdisht da’m’v en satres̃h randen (da’m’v en qities̃h wocen). Olũweves̃h go’n, savziv-e, frut̃ves̃h (miywa’vev) wesk go’n, k̃he yav’res̃h bacht go’n. Haz̃ereng itifoq mes̃h en, khũshig̃h mes̃h en, yizariyayi Imom-e Zamon-e saker k̃hetk.
There are certain households that their husbands have no savings, they don’t have any employment and depend on the farming but their wives do support them. They grow potatoes, dry vegetables and fruits and thus save for themselves. With such unity and happiness, the WO is a source provided to us by our Imam of the Time.
Haya zariyayi ce, sakes̃h yo leceren be ney, nivev skẽ maza spo zẽmanisht pẽrvetk, nives̃h k̃hater savzi go’n, nives̃h k̃hater qaq west go’n, mũres̃h pũrũnden. Bachati ce dẽ sak k̃hũynan’vi tey. Niven sak parwo be nast. Nives̃h sak woz k̃hũ zodbũd’ver balki cemtra’es̃h ras̃h’ven, camtremes̃h kuy ne chald.
We cannot give up that source. Our children/young generation enjoy doing the work. They grow vegetables for themselves, they dry apricots for themselves, they sell appples. We the women have got saving for ourselves.we do not care much. The wives now provide monetary support to their husbands. Nore more they request them for money. It’s the opposite now.

Tramis wakhtev yi ripya, bu ripya’ev ne dishttu ki ripyayi kumer, ce sokhti ya? Yowi chiz? Yow-e shakalev be ne dishtu. Ce wakht ki tanzim wezdi a, yow-e sak kũli chiz yek̃hk kert.
Earlier, it was difficult for the women to recognize the currency notes of one or two rupees that what was it? Or how the rupees looked like? They couldn’t recgonize the form of rupees. After formation of the WO, it taught us around all matters.
Skayi ce, saken woz be k ce kumer ki tanzim nast, spo yand yand-e k̃hũy’ve, vũrũt’ven. Tanzimi ki nast a, tanzimi ghafch foyadamand, yasht k̃hater tanzim go’n, Afghonistoni a, Tojikistoni a, yi digar Burugheliy a, kum’res̃h ki yem z̃hũ zik-e kũs̃hũyit, spo dheg̃hdisht, spo k̃hũyisht, petrisht, tanzim go’n. Tanzimi ghafch zarũri. Spo petrisht dam’ven qiti wocen k̃he, pocen vũrũtisht dam’v en qiti wocen k̃he , tanzim go’n. Tanzimi zarũri.
Therefore, An organization is so much beneficial. Wherever there is no women or men organization in our surroundings, they should form it. Our brothers and sisters in Afghanistan or Tajikistan, or in Burughel (Chitral), wherever they are and listen and know my language, they should opt to form organizations. It’s very important. Our sons and brothers (male segment) should stand for the support of female.
Skẽ k̃hũ pũdhes̃h k̃hũynan vervest. Saken skẽ k̃hũ pũdh vervesn-e k̃hũynanisht ne tu. Hayem wist-e shadh sol trẽmisi ce saken tẽ k̃hũ tatvũrũtev zor tu, pẽ zodbũd’ven zor tu,.hanivi ce, saken bigham. K̃hũ bachates̃h nik̃hinden. Ya’ni da k̃hũ bachates̃h ki panz̃ be kat̃en, dhases̃h be kat̃en, yowi foyda. Hayow k̃hater ruju caren. Po petrisht, po k̃hũyisht, vũrũtisht tanzm k̃hater go’n.
Women could stand on their own feet. We were not of that calibre to stand on our own feet. More than 26 years before, we were dependent upon fathers, brothers and husbands.but, at present, we are so confident. We do saving. If we save only five or ten rupees, that is beneficial. Our sons, our sisters and brothers should heed towards this important point and form organizations for themselves.
Nanev, niv sak nan’v-e t̃aym (wakht) niv reg̃hde. Po petrisht, po vũrũtisht, po k̃hũyisht, spo dheg̃hdihst, kushish caren k̃he skem bũnyodh k̃hater bachat jama’n. K̃hater mihnat caren.shini go’n, olũw go’n, yaves̃h k̃hater pũrũnden. Jama k̃hũynan to mirdina’es̃h ki wocen, yowes̃h rẽ kũk̃ht-e jib pirivt. Ta khunes̃h ki itifoq wost k̃he kũtanes̃h yo go’n,k̃he yowes̃h yan trẽ pũrũt wezin.
The age of mothers like me has gone (as we have become old), our sons, our brothers, our sisters and our daughters should strive and save money for themselves through such foundational approach. they should work hard. They should grow vegetables and potatoes as they could be sold, too.when men and women get together and save the money for themselves that benefits all individual members but it becomes so difficult for one person only. If there is unity within a household, all members of the family opt for the task together and thus they develop themselves collectively.
Mis en spocen z̃ereng holot tu ki g̃huz en be ne got. Sẽndal tu. S̃hapik’ves̃h be ne got. Shũpũk̃hk’ves̃h tag̃hde. Loqpar’ves̃h ne got. Hanivi z̃ereng zariya nast Hozir Imom-e narz en. Niv kũl chizi tey,sirf itifoq mes̃h en halen. Itifoq mes̃h’nev ki halde, k̃hũ lup’v-e qisa’vev ki kẽs̃hen, imondorig̃h mes̃h’nev ki tag̃hdi a, sakes̃h niv trẽ pũrũt tuk bas wezin.
Our earlier situation was so worse that we couldn’t even get firewood. We had our traditional long shoes (made at home) called sandal. People would not even get food and would walk barefootedly. They had no clothing. But at present, there is no such condition due to the blessings of Imam of the Time. At present, all things are available , but the only thing is to live with unity. If life was spent with unity and respected the directives of their elders and worked with honesty, we could then progress ahead.

I’m grateful to Ghulam Amin Beg (Madam Bibi Husni Khan’s son and one of my brothers) for documenting her talk in a videography and sharing it with me. Special thanks go to Mazdak Jibran Beg for the panic work of editing and adjusting the Wakhi transcription and English translation within the video.

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