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Swat women using embroidery skills to support families

Sadia Qasim Shah

PESHAWAR: Like many other Swati women, the prolonged conflict in the region left Farida with nothing but embroidery skills to earn livelihood.

Thanks to her expertise in this traditional craft, the 40-year-old currently works with Lasoona, a nongovernmental
organisation developing handicraft skills of local women and marketing their work, including Swati embroidered shawls.

As handicrafts made by skilled women were put on display here at Women Business Development Centre, a number of such women from Swat also poured their hearts out about the crisis they faced even after the conflict was over.

Ms Farida said she got education up to intermediate but after 22 years of her life as a housewife, she was forced to step out and work with an NGO for food and education of her two children.

She said there was an old diabetic woman in Qamber village whose two sons were killed on suspicion of aiding Taliban and that she earned Rs20 per chaddar (shawl) for embroidery and it paid for her medicine.

Middle-aged Parveen, who is a mother of young daughters from Qamber, said most of the women, who were doing Swati embroidery, were either widows heading their families or so poor that they wanted to supplement income of the household with their skills. She said conflict had destroyed school and lives of Swat women and financial problems were looming in every village.

Shama, another skilled woman from Swat, said conflict had badly affected handicrafts business in Swat as tourists stopped coming to the valley and buying their handicrafts. The linkages of the women making handicrafts and those marketing it were also broken but now things are improving and women are starting to work again to earn livelihood for their families.

Seema Ajmal from Mardan district, who had also displayed her handicrafts at the crafts bazaar, said the women had skills and enthusiasm to utilise their skills for income generation but she lacked support from family and the society.

According to her, women hesitate to approach markets for selling or marketing their products. “The customs and traditions are a big hurdle in a businesswoman or skilled woman’s way to progress.

Women, who showed up at the bazaar, which was inaugurated on Wednesday, said buyers did not trust women
entrepreneurs. They said the government support was needed to provide them with exposure and marketing skills.

“Linkages should be developed so that women could access markets,” she said.

Smeda chief in Peshawar Javed Khattak said his organisation was trying to develop linkages of women entrepreneurs and had planned their visits for exposure. He said WBDCs were important in networking of skilled women. WDBCs have been proposed for DI Khan and Hazara. He said WBDC in Peshawar was trying to polish the skills of the women making handicrafts. SMEDA and Home Economics College Peshawar has signed an MoU to train skilled women in color and thread-selection, designs, choice of cloth, designing and making of gems jewelry so that their products or handicrafts could be refined and saleable in the market, Mr. Khattak said.

Semda chief executive Naseem Khokar inaugurated the crafts bazaar and asked details from stallholders about handicrafts and about the areas in which they needed help.