Women – it’s time to shine

By Fatima Zakir
Tue, 01, 24

This week You! takes a look at the UN Women economic empowerment programme that has enabled thousands of marginalised women to become contributing members of the society. Read on...

Women – it’s time to shine

Rehana Kausar lived in Shah Abbas Chowk, Multan, with no prospects of a bright future. When her husband became gravely ill, she started sewing bedsheets and selling them door to door but it was still not enough to make ends meet. UN Women reached her village and initiated a training programme for women where they could learn to not just design the clothes and other products but sell them in a viable fashion too.

“I had my mobile phone in my pocket, but never had I fathomed the limitless possibilities the small device held. I began to implement my new skills of designing bags and shoes and sell them through the newfound avenues online. As a result, my son also started his own business, my twins completed their matriculation, and I married off my daughter. Now, ever since my husband grew ill, I am the breadwinner of my family,” elucidates Rehana.

Lajwanti Ashok has a similar story. Hailing from Rahchan Mehgar village in Sukkur, she is a mother of six young children. When she got married, she already knew how to do crochet and sewing, but did not know how to sell them as women in her village do not get out of their homes. “Women used to come to us and tell us the embroidery should be flawless, the shirt should be perfect but would just pay us PKR 500 for each shirt,” shares Lajwanti. “It was when UN Women came to our village; they trained us not just in embroidery but taught us to make mobile pouches, bags, keychains and other items. And also taught us to sell our products online through Instagram and Facebook. Now, we sell our products online, get orders and make around PKR 2000-2500 per shirt,” adds Lajwanti who is now educating her children by enrolling them in schools so they grow up to be well-informed and contributing members of the society.

Quetta is another city where women workforce is very low. As per this year’s survey of World Bank, only 16 per cent of women are employed and amongst them, 78.6 per cent are home-based workers with low upward mobility.

Shahida was one of these women in Quetta who had no job and no prospects of excelling in life. “We lived in miserable conditions. We did not even have enough to make ends meet and managing day to day life became difficult. My mother started stitching and doing embroidery on clothes to help survive. With the help of UN Women, my mother and I learnt to stitch clothes in a better way, learnt designing and started making clothes that sold immediately. Over time, we expanded our skills and have now ventured into making toys and decoration pieces out of fabric,” expresses Shahida.

There are countless such inspiring stories of women who turned their lives around through UN Women’s economic empowerment programme and are now contributing members of their families. This economic empowerment programme was in line with the 16 days of activism against gender-based violence, which talks about ending violence against women through their economic independence.

Women – it’s time to shine

No Excuse campaign

To commemorate the 16 Days of Activism, UN Women Pakistan launched Koi Jawaz Nahi or ‘No Excuse’ campaign across the country. In collaboration with the Government of Japan, UN Women’s ‘Koi Jawaz Nahi’ campaign kicked off at Mohenjo Daro, leveraging its historical and cultural significance to spotlight the persistent challenge of gender-based violence by fostering collective action for prevention and elimination. From there it travelled to Quetta, Peshawar and culminated in Islamabad.

The primary concept behind this initiative involved illuminating historical structures in these cities with the colour orange, which symbolises empowerment and freedom. For this, the landmarks chosen were Mohenjo Daro Museum in Sindh; Noori Naseer Cultural Complex in Quetta, Balochistan; Peshawar Museum in Peshawar, KPK and Jinnah Convention Centre in Islamabad. All of these buildings hold significant cultural or historical importance being the hub of our heritage or places where important policy decisions are made.

While talking about the campaign, Sharmeela Rasool, Country Representative of UN Women Pakistan pledges, “Let us remain steadfast in our commitment to creating a world where every woman and girl can live without the fear of violence. By working together, we can bring a positive change and build a more inclusive and equitable society.”

Sharmeela RasoolCountry RepresentativeUN Women Pakistan
Sharmeela Rasool
Country Representative
UN Women Pakistan

This year’s theme was, ‘Invest to Prevent Violence Against Women and Girls’, and the campaign actively promoted it by organising an exhibition of home-based female workers in each city. These home-based workers received skills and sales training from UN Women or its partner organisations to start earning from home and run their small businesses. Through this initiative, women from remote areas of the country turned their lives around and started supporting their families, or in some cases, become breadwinners too.

Women in each city showcased the products deeply rooted within their province’s culture and heritage. For instance, in Mohenjo Daro, there were stalls of ralli, which is a bedspread of colourful patchwork or weaved changeeri, in which bread is served during meals. In Quetta, the focus was on mirror work, be it in dresses or bags. While in Peshawar, the stalls had embroidered shawls, handmade floral cushion covers and woollen clothes for kids. Each city displayed their province’s specialty and highlighted their uniqueness while embracing diversity.

Nabila Malik, Head of Communications, UN Women Pakistan points out, “If you take a look at the exhibition and the products displayed, you will realise our women are immensely talented. They are skilled, they are focused and they are driven. All they need is a direction and guidance to polish their skills, market their products and run their businesses successfully.”

Islamabad was the last stop for the campaign. This event was bigger than the rest as the exhibition was replaced by a trade fair. Approximately 70 stalls exhibited, all run by women entrepreneurs. One could see home-made jewellery crafted from wool, fabric, gota or any embellishment available at home. Then there were embroidered clothes and shawls; everything ranging from mirror work to shadow-work and dabka. Dyed fabrics, block prints, patchwork clothes and handbags looked quite unique. Hand painted wall hangings, jewellery, pens and khussas were also part of the display. While, scented candles, homes-made perfumes and even pickles were a hot pick too.

Women – it’s time to shine

Cost-effective initiatives

Besides the traditional items that were showcased in the exhibition, there were some creative ideas that were innovative, cost-effective and environment friendly.

Amongst these creative ideas, there was Bazyaft. They had everything from tote bags to laptop covers, from notebooks to file folders and from keychains to pens. But the admirable thing about them is that all products are made out of waste fabrics, which if not used are landfilled or burnt, causing environment hazard. Moreover, the artisans involved behind the hard work are from underprivileged communities, specifically deserving females.

For women only

Perveza, Gul Shama and Raheela are three enterprising women from Rohri, Sukkur, who have developed affordable and reusable sanitary napkins. Realising the importance of sanitary napkins in women’s day to day lives, they understood that commercial pads are not viable for women in villages due to its cost and one time usage. They created pads made of four different layers – cotton, synthetic fibres, non-woven fabric and a sheet of microfleece, preventing leakage.

“Our pads are comfortable and reusable. One pad can last for as long as 6 months if washed properly. By washing and reusing them, we are saving the atmosphere as well and reducing the waste in the environment,” states the entrepreneur.

The small setup that began from their home is expanding as more and more women in the villages are opting for these eco-friendly and affordable pads. With this, they are also inviting women to join in the making of the pads which is creating employment opportunities for others in the area.

Women – it’s time to shine

Be-rangi se naranji ka safar

‘Koi Jawaz Nahi’ also featured a street theatre performance in all the cities based on the theme of the importance of economic empowerment of women in our society. Titled, ‘Be-rangi se naranji ka safar’, the play revolved around a middle-class household and the relationship dynamics of a strict father and his colour-blind daughter. With a supportive mother and brother, the girl learns the skill of designing and stitching clothes that later on helps their entire family in hour of need.

The theatre was used as a tool to instil the idea of freedom and equality for all. The moral behind the story was to allow women to grow and flourish in the current times of economic instability. It is only together that we can have a thriving society where everyone is treated with equality, and are provided fair opportunities irrespective of their gender.

Economic empowerment is necessary in today’s age and time, especially when you are aiming to be part of the policy-making or decision-making process. Our women should be economically empowered, be it a home-based handicraft worker or a huge business owner. When women are financially stable and economically independent, they can stop any form of violence against them and stand against injustice.

Uzma, a woman entrepreneur from Peshawar, urges other women to step up, develop some skills and start contributing to their households. This not only makes them independent but also helps them break free of violence that is often projected towards them when they do not support financially. “With the support of the international organisation, I was able to set up a small business from my home where I sell embroidered shawls and hand warmers,” shares Uzma.

For a better society

The idea behind the entire campaign was to urge the people and organisations to invest in women to make them economically empowered and realise the potential our female workforce has. Along with this, the campaign was an attempt to reach out to the government and request them to allocate resources so that laws that are passed for the protection and rights of women are properly implemented too. This is the only way we can ensure a conducive and safe environment for women to thrive and prosper.

Concluding the 16 Days of Activism campaign, Sharmeela Rasool positively sums it up, “Embracing ‘No Excuse’ and strategic investments in women and girls, we illuminate the constitutional framework of safeguarding every citizen’s rights. Together, we sculpt a nation where excuses vanish, and economic empowerment interconnects seamlessly with equal rights for all.”

Fatima Zakir is a communication and marketing professional who started her career with You! magazine. She can be reached at