Reviving craftsmanship, empowering women in South Asia

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New Delhi: Women are generally not allowed to venture too far from their homes in Pakistan’s Khyber Pukhtunkhwa province, leave alone even distantly thinking of employment. But Khalida Bibi’s quest for empowerment has made her an exception and a shining example for other women in her village in Haripur district.

It wasn’t easy for the 52-year-old to face harsh innuendos from her relatives and communities for working with Sabah, an organisation that empowers and enables home-based women across the eight South Asian countries to earn sustainable livelihoods through crafts and enterprise, but she dismissed their comments and focussed on honing her skills.

“A woman should never accept defeat. She should fight against the circumstances and petty mindsets to empower herself. My husband and my children stood by me throughout and that is why I have been able to reach so far,” Khalida Bibi told IANS during a visit to India.

“Earlier my relatives said that I have defamed the family by stepping out from the house. But today those same people are sending their girls with me for participating in different cities in Pakistan,” she added.

Things have become easy for women like Khalida Bibi because of Sabah that offers young girls skill development programmes at their doorstep. As girls are not allowed to step out for work, the organisation ensures they are skilled enough to work from home.

Kurtas, suits and shawls with hand embroidery are what Khalida Bibi brought to the Indian capital to present at the annual Lotus Bazaar that promotes handicrafts and objects from South Asian countries and highlights the work of NGOs and cultural institutions that work closely with the artisans.

Hafiza, a member of Sabah Afghanistan, perceives this opportunity of working from home as god-sent because of the perennial conflict her country is embroiled in.

“Additional income is always a boon, especially if you are from a conflict zone where one lives on the edge of unpredictability. The organisation provides the facility of working from home and gives us training and material,” Hafiza told IANS.

“In a way this opportunity has also revived the craft because the traditional art is able to reach the market, which sees a surge in demand,” Hafiza said.

The Lotus Bazaar is a flagship market development event of the Asian Heritage Foundation, a cultural organisation that aims to promote the diversity of Asian heritage and culture through the arts, traditions and cuisines. The four-day bazar, which began Saturday on the lawns of the state-run Ashok Hotel, offers space for direct retail to those selected from the South Asian countries and attempts to connect them with the global market.

For tourism-driven Maldives, the market is a profitable venture to reach out to a larger audience and sell their woodwork.

“Being an island nation we have to export the raw material. So what we are selling here are woodwork and

shell jewellery. The innovative designs are appealing and affordable,” said a representative from the Maldives stall.

For Savita Patel, CEO of Sewa Trade Facilitation Centre, a part of the Ahmedabad-based Self Employed Women’s Association and which facilitates market access and alternative employment for rural artisans and women, platforms like the Lotus Bazar have revived craft and brought additional income to the family.

“In districts like Kutch there is scarcity of water and rainfall. This usually leads to migration but we offer to teach these women in group, train them and introduce them to the designers who tell them about colour combinations,” Patel told IANS.

“So women are empowered as they are earning and at the same time you are reviving the craft by creating opportunities for future generations,” she added.

Initiatives like this are making skill development a lucrative job opportunity and making handicrafts fashionable.

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