Entrepreneurship and empowerment

October 16, 2022

Women in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are becoming self-reliant through entrepreneurship. In the process, they challenge some social stereotypes

Entrepreneurship and empowerment


ntrepreneurship is playing a significant role in empowering women in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Despite taboos and some negative stereotypes of working women, young women are increasingly taking interest in setting up their own businesses. The digital age has provided a favourable environment, allowing women to engage in and run online businesses while working from their homes.

Experts say entrepreneurship should be introduced as a subject at middle school level. This, they say, will help young people grow up with innovative business ideas.

The Women Chamber of Commerce and Industry (WCCI) was set up in 2010 in Peshawar. Its objective was to encourage entrepreneurship to empower women socially and economically and to highlight their role in economic growth.

Since its inception, the WCCI has played an important role in raising awareness among women to set up their own businesses. It has also helped build the capacity of online entrepreneurs and helped women market their products, both at national and international levels.

Small and Medium Enterprise Development Authority (SMEDA) is an autonomous institution of the government of Pakistan under the Ministry of Industries and Production. The SMEDA was established in October 1998 to encourage and facilitate the development and growth of small and medium enterprises in the country.

The SMEDA has several initiatives for women entrepreneurs in KP to its credit. These include capacity building, network of business incubation and development centres, improved access to finances and marketing and technical assistance and support for budding start-ups.

Rashid Arman, the provincial chief of the SMEDA, says that keeping in view the potential of women, the SMEDA-KP has taken special initiatives to enable them to contribute to the economy of the country.

“The women here have the natural ability to take up challenging entrepreneurship tasks. Many a time they have shown their skills through their products at exhibitions and display workshops.”

Shamama Arbab, the founding president of the WCCI, Peshawar, tells The News on Sunday that setting up the Peshawar chapter was a great milestone. “It was once quite unthinkable to step outside one’s house, let alone start a business, in a region plagued by militancy,” she says. Cultural taboos, she says, hampered women in their bid to do something on their own.

Entrepreneurship and empowerment

“Not long ago, women’s engagement in business activities was considered immoral. But women today have the vision and skills to launch enterprising projects and lead independent lives,” says Shamama Arbab.

She says that mainstreaming women in economic and political structures and processes can guarantee a nation’s progress.

“Women here engage in businesses. But awareness regarding entrepreneurship at school level can do wonders. I have developed a syllabus for Class 8. Unfortunately, I have yet to hear back from anyone on this. During one of my trips to India, I floated the idea, and a participant expressed interest. Bangladesh has already started the school courses,” she says.

“Today women proudly own businesses. However, the KP government must take steps to facilitate women entrepreneurship and broaden the scope of business for them to ensure their full participation.”

Azra Jamshed, the newly elected president of the WCCI, says that around 450 women are affiliated with the organisation. Out of those 375 are regular members running various businesses. “The WCCI has trained business women how to manage time and arrange visits. Several of them have bagged international awards,” she explains.

The WCCI has played its role in empowering women in the province. Most businesswomen not only look after their own businesses but also motivate other young women to start up new business initiatives. The trend is picking up and defying outdated stereotypes.

Zahidullah Shinwari, a former president of the Sarhad Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SCCI), says that owing to location disadvantage, law and order issues and limited economy, women entrepreneurship could not be developed to a desirable extent. “However, women’s contribution to the cottage industry – in stitching, handicrafts, jewellery, footwear, processing – and agro-based industry is huge”, he says.

“It is a matter of great pride that women entrepreneurship has increased manifold in KP over the years. Their presence in trade unions and business forums is quite encouraging,” he adds. The WCCI Mardan and Charasadda are also functional, he says, adding that the WCCI chapters in Abbottabad and Haripur are in the process of becoming functional.

The KP society is fast changing when it comes to women’s participation in social, political and cultural activities. Rights activists are trying to improve and promote the cause of women empowerment. The KP government has yet to contribute to the cause of women’s rights in regards to their formal business exposure, training and investment.

Shamama Arbab says that young entrepreneurs are well acquainted with modern technology and therefore, can contribute more to economic growth.

“Not long ago, women’s engagement in business activities was considered immoral. But women today have the vision and skills to launch their own enterprising projects and to lead independent lives,” she says. “Young women are equipped with education and have access to modern tools. They enjoy more freedom compared to the past.”

The writer is a Peshawar-based journalist. He mostly writes on art, culture, education, youth and minorities. He tweets at @Shinwar-9

Entrepreneurship and empowerment