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May 15, 2019

With a stitch in time, rural women tailoring new entrepreneurial careers in Sindh


May 15, 2019

HYDERABAD: Sabhagi Kumbhar, who comes from a potter family in village Dr Yar Muhammad Jhinjhi, near Mirpurkhas city, is among a handful of women, from the local artisan community, who have adapted to the situation by successfully trying their deft hands at alternative sources of sustainable subsistence.

Now, she stitches clothes for community clients and earns a little to ease her family. Earlier, these women of potter families used to work with their males at traditional workshops.

She has fond memories of the days when women played their role in this traditional manufacturing industry, spending most of their days from dawn to dusk there. But after cheap plastic items flooded the market and almost replaced the earthenware pottery, these artisans were forced to find better alternatives for their survival.

Since then, majority of potter women have either been sitting idle at homes or moving to agriculture fields for picking chilli, tinda (apple gourd), bhindi (okra) and do other farm-related jobs.

They spend two to three hours daily in the morning and earn Rs120-140 only working as pickers. The work and wages for women depend on seasonal products and the time they can spare for the job.

Sabhagi was among a large number of community women, who never got a chance to get formal schooling.

After completing a four-month training course at an informal school, established near her locality, she has learned how to read and write, besides learning how to sew/tailor clothes.

"Now I can cut the cloth according to measurement and sew the same into dresses. Each dress (shalwar and shirt) requires a little change or tweaking following new fashion designs to attract customers,” she describes passionately.

Sharing her experience of going to an informal school, Sabaghi said now she was capable of reading and writing. There were 47 females, who came from artisans and agriculture backgrounds.

They worked in agriculture fields for variety of jobs and earn enough on a daily basis.

“We picked up these skills at homes from experienced elderly women. Now after learning this new skill we can make some more money on our own to help our loved ones,” Sabhagi said.

"We have learned traditional embroidery and needlework skills and we make handmade ralli by stitching colourful matching pieces of cloth and threads carefully at homes,” she added.

Many of village women mostly stay at homes without any work and face inflationary pressures, but these skilled women have a passion to learn to discover their true potential. Now, this group of illiterate women has a become source of inspiration for others because of their amazing skills, enterprising ambitions, and entrepreneurial dreams.

Kazbano, daughter of Muhammad Bachal, another skilled woman, proudly shows the visitors her hand-embroidered suits she prepared for clients in her neighbourhood. Kazbano sounded confident when she talked about the learning and her adaptation of these modern methods of stitching.

“In fact, village women do not have access to see the innovative work displayed at larger shopping malls, markets, and super stores in urban areas, but they can create the same,” she said, adding that they need opportunities with guidance and incentives.

The seamstress says the dresses she makes involve different kinds of works sold at varying prices in the main market. For example, she showed a simple suit with a stitching cost ranging from Rs150-200 as per local rate in villages, while there are other designs that are priced between Rs500-1000 or more, depending on quality and finishing. These dress pairs have fine handmade embroidery designs, which attract customers.

Kazbano said she and her peers could earn more if they were given a chance to have access to the bigger market as the poor villager women were unable to afford expensive stitching or buy readymade suits.

She had just arrived from an agriculture field where she went to pick bhindi (okra). According to Kazbano, these women spend two hours daily in the early morning and earn Rs120-140, depending on their performance. This amount was enough for a two-hour job in the morning. After this, they have more time to learn more and adapt new skills for alternative sources of income.

Similarly, Noor Bano has a different work to present while visiting the village to meet skilled women. She started learning these unique skills from her mother and grandmother as a child and now Bano is able to sew together colourful pieces of clothes to make ralli. But now she can also tailor clothes at home.

Zahida Detho, who leads Sindh Rural Partners Organization (SRPO), said skill training programme for illiterate young females is supposed to enable them to find new sources of income at a time when unemployment, poverty, and price hike together have burdened the low-income women-led families.

“Traditionally peasant women play a crucial role in agriculture production, but ironically this economic sector is being taken merely for production of food grains, instead of thinking about its processing, preservation, and packaging,” Detho said.

“This missing factor has created problems for village women, who otherwise have potential to earn through adapting new technology in rural areas.”

Detho added that it was a fact that literate women could easily get a job or become entrepreneurs on the basis of academic qualification, but illiterate women did not have even a remote chance.

“There is only way out to motivate young illiterate women to acquire skill education and emerge as an active workforce to help their families and live with dignity,” Detho said.

She said her organization has taken initiative with Sindh Education Foundation (SEF) to run two centers under Adolescent and adult literacy and training programme (AALTO), which are producing skilled women, who can have alternative source of income through this kind of entrepreneurship at village level. They are able to work in groups and can design their business plans.

She believes that it is direly needed in today’s competitive job market, in which rural women do not have access to reach and sale their products. She was optimistic to have vocational education along with conventional education to equip young women in villages to learn skills to help their families through getting decent employment in fields.

She said there should be opportunities for these village women on the basis of their skills to take part in job fair or exhibitions at local, provincial or national level so they may have exposures to learn new techniques in this wider field of entrepreneurship. At village level stitching with hand embroidery has importance and skilled women can earn little to ease their families, she concludes.

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