By: Kazim Alam
KARACHI: Some blame it on the alleged covert opposition from mainstream chambers of commerce and industry while others point a finger at the lack of enthusiasm on the part of women entrepreneurs, but the fact remains that the two women’s chambers of commerce and industry established in Sindh side by side about five years ago have remained ‘dormant’ for many years now.
One of them – the Women’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry Sindh (WCCIS) — has no permanent office address now. Its online presence is limited to a single-page website that gives no contact information and does not state the chamber’s mission, names of committees, office-bearers or general members.
The other chamber that exists in Sindh alongside the WCCIS – Sindh Women Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SWCCI) – has a seemingly inactive website that displays a members’ list of 57 businesses only. The most recent ‘mission’ that the “Special Missions Achieved” section of its website lists was accomplished in 2007.
Women entrepreneurs did not have the right to establish gender-based chambers of commerce until the mid-2000s, as the Trade Organisations Ordinance, 1961, which governed the formation and operations of chambers, had no such provision.
The current Trade Organisations Ordinance was enacted by a presidential order on December 31, 2006, permitting the creation of women’s chambers of commerce and industry and mandating transparent elections on a regular basis.
The result was the establishment of eight autonomous women’s chambers of commerce and industry throughout Pakistan, including two in Sindh.
According to Hammad Siddiqui, deputy country director of the Centre for International Private Enterprise Pakistan (CIPE), instrumental in capacity building of women’s chambers in the country, old regulations required that each member of the chamber must possess a national tax number.
“The updated law allows women entrepreneurs to become members of the chambers on the basis of their national identity card alone,” he said.
Why two chambers?
“As a matter of principle, the establishment of two parallel chambers of commerce and industry in Sindh was wrong,” said Salma Ahmed, founding president of the WCCIS, while talking to The Express Tribune.
“In fact, I was in favour of setting up only one chamber at the national level, with its branches all over the country. But like everything else in Pakistan, this process also became politicised, and we ended up with two parallel chambers in Sindh,” she said.
“They (SWCCI) haven’t really been working. More or less, their chamber has remained dormant over the years, although the Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FPCCI) provided full support,” Ahmed said, adding that her chamber had roughly 1,000 members.
When contacted, SWCCI President Rukhsana Jahangir promised to get back to The Express Tribune in 24 hours. She was unavailable for comment later on despite many attempts to reach her.
Ahmed continues to be president of the WCCIS, as no election has taken place since the chamber’s inception in the wake of the 2006 presidential order. “We plan to hold the election in September this year,” she said.
In contrast, the Central and North Punjab Women’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CNPWCCI) have had two elections since its creation, CNPWCCI President Kokab Parveen told The Express Tribune over the phone.
Ahmed also criticised the Karachi Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI) for not providing the WCCIS with logistical and moral support. She added that the FPCCI and KCCI should have dissolved their women entrepreneurs’ committees after the establishment of the WCCIS.
Responding to her statement, KCCI’s Women Entrepreneurs’ Sub-Committee Chairman Younus Bashir called Ahmed’s demands ‘unreasonable’. “Who is she to ask for the dissolution of the KCCI’s women entrepreneurs’ sub-committee? We are ready to help them in resolving any legal issues. But they are a separate entity. Therefore, we cannot let WCCIS use our premises as its office,” he said.
“We have a large number of female members at the KCCI. If they wished, they could have joined the women’s chamber of commerce and industry on their own.”