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Roshaneh Zafar is the founder and managing director of the Kashf Foundation – the first specialized microfinance institution (MFI) to serve women in Pakistan. She believes that microfinance is about changing mindsets and enabling women to realize their inherent worth.

The Kashf Foundation focuses on empowering women and girls through entrepreneurship and access to financial services. After working with thousands of women over the past two decades, we have realized that women’s economic empowerment cannot be isolated from the context of their daily lives. Studies have shown that over 57% of women from low-income communities in Pakistan face physical abuse, while over 80% face emotional abuse at home. 

Addressing this issue requires the construct of an inclusive strategy that involves both men and women. It was for this reason that we began to build a holistic paradigm to address women’s issues in the context of a patriarchal society.

Kashf’s programs are premised on the fact that women play important social and economic roles, the effectiveness of which is critical for household welfare. Gender inequity can become the basis for deeply ingrained violence against women. Enabling women to become financially literate and run their own businesses will allow them to increase their household’s income and enhance their position within the family. Our research has shown that domestic violence goes down by as much as 40% when women’s economic contribution to a household rises. Inter-spousal relations have been seen as a key to reducing violence against women. When Kashf interviewed the spouses of our female clients, we found that more than 50% stated that they respect their wives more since they have started contributing to family income.

To help further educate communities on gender justice, Kashf also undertakes gender justice trainings with men and boys. The men who participate in these programs say they have enhanced sensitization of gender roles and a better understanding of gender discrimination.

As of June 2014, Kashf has delivered 5,813 gender trainings to 68,979 participants under its gender training program.

In a survey conducted of male participants of gender trainings in 2013 highlighted that over 87% males who had attended the training mentioned that domestic violence incidents in their household had gone down. Asma Batool, who lives in a remote part of Pakistan and is a Kashf client, recently shared how after attending a Kashf gender training her husband came home a changed man. Before, her husband opposed educating girls, but now all three of her daughters are attending school!

Our other great initiative is our social theatre performances which are arranged throughout the year in various low income communities. These performances focus on domestic violence, gender stereotypes and human rights. Kashf has been using the interactive theater technique to involve audiences in generating awareness about gender based violence. As of June 2014, 677 community based theatre performances have been conducted with an outreach of 70,594 participants. Many men now fully participate in the performances while making commitments to end gender discrimination and enhance women entrepreneurship. As a result, 58% of females have stated improvement in the husband’s perception of the domestic role of women.

From the beginning Kashf has been an initiator and innovator in the microfinance market and now  is bringing that same innovation to educating communities about gender-based violence.

Together if we invest in the economic empowerment of women today, we can ensure the progress of women tomorrow.

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