In rural Sindh, there are a large number of skilled women, who work silently and contribute to rustic economy, but only a small fraction of them knows how to approach local and town markets to sell their products and earn a little to make both ends meet for their families.
Reports gathered from different areas show that almost 35-40 percent households have been associated with creative industry. But they are unaware how to link their products to proper market and earn enough.
The artisans have traditionally inherited this art and craft that involves carefully texturing the colourful pearls and tiny gemstones, applying beadwork and create designs of variety of colouring threads. They work painstakingly to beautify these items to attract clients.
Despite their huge contribution to rural economy, socioeconomic conditions of these artisans are reportedly miserable. They depend on traders and middlemen for getting orders and usually cannot make a reasonable profit as per the market value of their craft.
According to them, the prices these items have not increased by the changing time, but the cost of the raw material has.
They work to fight poverty and sustain lives of their families. Otherwise, there is no charm in the reasonable wages they get, while selling their products.
Now the election season is on and these artisans are employing their creative art to texture political parties’ flags and electoral symbols through different kinds of work. They try to make the most of this opportunity. They prepare beautifully knitted symbols with beadwork, fabric, and threads.
Obviously, most of these artisans have no political affiliations; they just work dedicatedly as usual to deliver on the orders placed by the local activists for meager returns.
Mai Amna, a renowned skilled artisan and expert in designing headgear for grooms and making artificial jewelry for brides, has recently got orders by local political activists to make party flags and symbols.
Originally from a village near Noshehroferoz district and presently living in a Hyderabad city neighburhood, Amna believes that many artisans in different areas have different artwork to depict these political symbols, but the items they prepare are quite different in terms of design, beauty and matching colours. Activists present these works as gifts to their leaders during the campaign.
She says since election campaign is in full swing, everybody is seen chanting slogans to show their loyalty to their political parties
"We are contributing differently to attract clients in this election season," she said smiling.
"We do this to only for earning a living as usual. We have no idea as to which political school of thought different candidates belong to or whether they are democrats, anarchists, liberals, or conservatives. We are peace-loving people and depend on this artwork for livelihood and nothing else," Amna said.
They the prices of these products range from Rs50 to 500, depending on labour and material cost.
Amna, traditionally has a unique skill of texturing variety of beads for people of all ages. Likewise, she prepares headgear for grooms, which she sells for Rs700-1000. The headgears she prepares are traditionally worn on happy occasions like childbirth celebrations, circumcision, and wedding ceremonies. These traditional items are also used for decorating animals and vehicles.
Shopkeepers and market people usually place these items carefully for not only for attracting customers, but also beautifying their display centers. They know the people, who love these gift items, will continue to frequent their shops to buy them.
"We do our work without caring who will use it and for what," Amna said.
About her experience, she said there were major markets in this city to sell traditional products, but they earn enough through local clients and working silently.
Despite her old age, she guides a multi-generation women group of neihbourhood and produces different precious hand-made items.
Shakeel Ahmed Abro, who has a long experience of working with artisan women, entrepreneurs and mobilising them for training and linking them with urban markets, says at least 35-40 percent household women in all the districts of Sindh province have these traditional skills.
Abro said they work at homes, but hardly a few of them get contracts from urban markets and commercial centers for selling their products.
"We have observed that the women working silently in their villages are being exploited by middlemen around them," he said.
For example, he said, these women made some products like headgears, which were being used in different fashion designs and decoration of vehicles. “These artisans can truly be benefitted if they are empowered to sell their products by themselves directly to the customers,” Abro said.
He calls it a huge economic source, which, he suggests, should be mobilised at their level. “These artisans should be enabled to bypass middlemen and traders.”
Abro suggested establishment of sale points, where these artisan women could not only work on their products but also sell them directly to buyers. “This is only way out to benefit these artisans,” he said.
For this, these artisans should have themselves registered to get intellectual property rights.
The artisans believe that each color, style, and design has a unique symbol, portraying the culture of that particular area. They call it old and indigenous skills, coming down through generations.
Though the traditional industry has a charm and people, specifically urban customers prefer to take these indigenous products, the authorities do not have a mechanism to mobilise this huge economic source.
These items have an attractive market presently. But it is of no use for these artisans because of low profitability, unavailability of display centers, where they may come and deal with customers on their own.
Stakeholders including genuine promoters, supporters, and enthusiasts suggest that this creative sector be declared as an industry for the benefit of the artisans, who are struggling to perpetuate the ancient craft.
The writer is a staff member