Craft has long been regarded as being out of step with mass-production and contemporary society. According to several sources, the global rise of industrialisation and consumer societies has hastened a decline in traditional craft practice and production across the world. This is evidenced in a series of research and reports.
In China, the spirit of craftsmanship has recently been identified as a vital ingredient for the nation’s manufacturing development. In 2017, the Craft Revitalisation Plan was issued by the central government’s State Council to reintroduce craft products into everyday life. Today, craftsmen ingenuity and intangible cultural heritage are frequently referred to by Chinese politicians, policy makers, business promoters and academics. These terms are now part of the mainstream of public discourse. As marginalised crafts and indigenous knowledge have gained political power, there is a revival of interest in craft objects and craft practices across China. This wave of craft resurgence has been further bolstered in recent years by China’s promotion of entrepreneurship.
In Pakistan, the concept of rural women entrepreneurship is an emerging phenomenon and gaining popularity in this era of economic recession. The phenomenon of rural women entrepreneurship in Pakistan is very much under-explored and the policy strategies to stimulate the rural women interest in entrepreneurship are not rightly directed. In the absence of a base line research, findings suggest that lack of, or no understanding about the entrepreneurial process is seriously affecting the earning capacity of rural women entrepreneurs.
China is the leading producer of hand-made products with over 40 per cent share in the world trade but the technological revolution and high labour cost, has made the handmade sector in China vulnerable. However, craft heritage was woefully neglected for much of the past century. There is a dearth of artisans to pass on their skills to a new generation of Chinese craftsmen and women.
In Pakistan 52 per cent of the population are women. 72 per cent of the total population lives in villages and 42 per cent are women. Pakistan’s skilled women labour can act as a substitute for the Chinese handicraft industry. With a rise in demand for traditional handmade artefacts, it makes it a profitable business venture for Pakistan. The country is enriched with a labour captive skilled human resource in the form of rural women. With the help from Commerce Ministry and Trade Development Authority of Pakistan it could lead to a viable partnership between the two countries. It would be beneficial for Pakistan to initiate joint ventures with China in this sector on the basis of buy-back guarantee. Under which mechanism raw materials and wages could be provided by China and in return market-driven handicrafts items would be produced by Pakistan which will also provide a platform to empower the skilled artisans in the handicraft sector.
With the government becoming more responsive towards women entrepreneurs and adopting gender-specific approach to developing entrepreneurship culture, artisans need to be organised. Associations and Chambers are meant to provide small scale entrepreneurs with mentorship, knowledge, and support through policy advocacy, trainings and handholding in a bid to improve the business climate for women.
There are only 17 Women Chambers of Commerce and Industry (WCCI) across the country. This proportion is low compared to other regions. The need of the hour is to include more women members in the chamber. Business advisory units at all chambers of commerce can facilitate and benefit businesswomen who are new to the business world, attracting more members to join these professional networks.
A positive development is the formation of Pakistan China Joint Chamber of Commerce and Industry. It is imperative that rural women entrepreneurs should also be given a place in this Chamber. They are invisible to the business world. An Association made especially for them would end that isolation. Associations and Chambers can provide a vital platform that can change the role of rural women entrepreneurs from one of vulnerability to that of effective change makers by building linkages and partnership models which are affirmative; where they can demonstrate economic clout and force larger trade organizations and Government to pay attention to their needs and help them to grow.
Ministry of Commerce (MOC) and TDAP need to engage women in order to enhance the understanding of gender-specific trade barriers. The MOC’s Strategic Trade Policy Framework 2015-2018 had promised increased support to WCCIs. However, no programme or budget allocation was committed.
Rural women’s labour participation rates since 1961 have, on an average, been more than double that of the urban female (7.3 for urban females and 16.5 for rural females). This is probably due to the fact that rural life offers greater opportunities for women to participate in economic activities. The rural women excel in handicrafts and have skills in this field since generations. We have showcased these products for years without focus on product development. With greater emphasis on product, packaging and presentation, rural women entrepreneurs can enter into the arena of export.
Projection of women of each province highlighting their handicrafts and giving them projection for sale of the same is not enough, this needs to be done with focus and determination, and for this scientific research needs to be carried out along with trainings. Alongside, with the registration of business associations or chambers as change agents, Ministry of Women Development – Government of Pakistan has initiated few projects in collaboration with non-governmental organisations to empower women through the development of women entrepreneurship in Pakistan. But the outcomes of these initiatives are yet to be determined. It is an irony that rural development has always been overlooked.
Therefore, it has becomes imperative in the context of on-going scenario to explore deeply on the issue of women entrepreneurship in Pakistan, especially in the remote parts of the country. Furthermore, the prevailing geo-political crises and the pandemic have affected badly the social and economic growth transition in Pakistan, making the individuals and families vulnerable to fight for their survival. In order to combat with the prevailing crisis situation, helping women in trade development seems an appropriate remedy to rejuvenate the social and economic structure of the country. In this regard women chambers can act as effective platforms for empowering women to increase participation in economic policy. Women chambers are now being invited by the Ministry on various discussion forums.
To be able to advocate effectively, and strengthen women membership and governance within the respective trade organisations, a substantial data collection policy should be enforced. A transparent list of all artisans and entrepreneurs members should be available on every chamber and association’s website that will establish linkages to the local and global market. In this way we can also diminish the monopoly of middlemen. The women of the rural areas of Pakistan once empowered and equipped with the confidence and the independence to stand up and claim their equal place in the business world would be an important asset to our economic growth.
This collection has all the embroidery done by artisans from Tharparkar