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Women at work: When emancipation comes disguised as adversity

Women at work: When emancipation comes disguised as adversity

By Saba Rani

PESHAWAR: Wearing confidence with a hint of a smile, Sonia greets her customers every day who come to her looking for their make-up fix. Be it sales, cash collection or management, Sonia does it all at her small shop inside Deans Plaza in the city.

“I encourage every woman to come forward, work for herself and stand on her feet,” she tells The Express Tribune.

The twenty seven-year-old entrepreneur has been working in the field of cosmetics for many years now. Unfortunately, it was not the love of transforming faces which prompted her entry into business. Sonia started working when she was 11.

“I was only six months old when my father died. I quit school in fifth grade and started to provide for my family [by doing odd jobs],” she said. It was only six years ago when she started her business with Rs35,000 in her account. That might be a very small budget to start with but for Sonia, it was her entire future; she saved the money after selling her jewellery.

Right across Sonia’s shop is a woman who sells toys. Mumtaz Tehniyat is a 40-year-old widow and a mother of one who showers every child with love when they come to find their new favourite teddy bear.

Tehniyat started her business almost eight years ago, filled with trepidation. She is more confident now.

“I was really scared when I first started working. Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa is patriarchal and people do not welcome the idea of businesswomen, especially one who sits in a shop.” However, she says she is satisfied with what she does and her business is successful.

There are thousands of women in K-P who want to start their own business, but perhaps even before they begin to face the obvious hurdles in their way, fear trips them up and keeps them all tied up in dependency. It does not help that there is a lack of education, little to no access to start-up capital, no training for management and practically no networking opportunities.

Many women are compelled to settle – a life without financial independence. For them, life starts at the parents’ house till the day they are wed and life continues at their husband’s. Eventually they become stay-at-home mothers or work from home.

Then there is the informal sector, women who design clothes, make handicrafts or weave carpets, a production and sales set-up from their own houses. Fewer still venture out to start their own business and formalise it.

Only 300 women of a population of roughly 30 million in K-P are registered with the Women Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

“Most women prefer to tailor clothes or go into fashion design,” said Nasira Lughmani, president of the Women Chamber of Commerce and Industry. “We want to arrange an exhibition somewhere abroad, like Sri Lanka, India, Bangladesh, so we can showcase the talent of the women of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.” But, Lughmani explains, there are financial constrains; “We do not have enough funds to execute the idea.”

Nabeela, the project manager for Women Business Development Centre (WBDC), said, “The younger generation is extremely enthusiastic and wants to work in the mainstream industries.” They are running schools, bakeries and much more, she added.

“Women hesitate to come forward but we provide them with a platform to present their work to the public in a safe environment,” Nabeela said.

Express Tribune

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