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Working for the uplift of less privileged women

By Perwez Abdullah

Karachi: With short cropped hair, exuding confidence and immense energy, Dr Nasreen Aslam Shah says with conviction that she works for the uplift of the poor and downtrodden women of society.

Dr Shah, who is a professor of social work along with being the Director of the Centre of Excellence for Women’s Studies (CEWS), complained, “Our work in the CEWS mostly goes unnoticed in the media and society because we are not trying to come into the limelight and earn the status of a celebrity. We have 180 students, 80 percent of them being women, and I have supervised one PhD from the centre and 10 are in the pipeline. I am satisfied with our work and receiving laurels.”

The CEWS has just concluded a research on the self-employed women of Karachi in all the 18 towns. The research has generated a huge amount of information and data about the poor women who excel in various crafts but lack proper education and money to begin their own small business ventures. “The research titled, “Self Employed Women of Karachi”, has revealed many startling facts about the miserable lives of these women. They work hard but the lion’s share goes to the middlemen. The women have no knowledge or awareness on approaching the clientele directly. This makes things difficult for these women. Their hard labour is wasted and they continue to be mired in poverty,” Dr Shah said.

Health hazards are another major problem for them. Those who are engaged in the carpet and rug weaving industry usually fall prey to respiratory tract infections and the ones working in the furniture workshops contact skin diseases due to the use of varnish and other chemicals used in the business.

“There is no medical coverage or safety apparel for these women. They work, become sick and die, unnoticed and unsung. This is simply massacre of our womenfolk who try to earn their own livelihood through honest work,” Dr Shah said in dismay.

Dr Shah says that currently the CEWS was compiling a directory of the self-employed women of Karachi to allow them direct access to the clientele. “We are also trying to include women councillors of all the 18 Towns to recognise and help the women entrepreneurs. We have also suggested for the formation of a bank along the pattern of the Grameen Bank of Bangladesh that could extend soft loans to the women. Currently banks provide loans to the women on harsh terms after an agonizing, lengthy wait. The loans are not helping these women as the banks devour large chunks of the income as interest and the remaining portion goes to the middlemen,” she lamented.

Dr Shah stated that the Indian Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) looks after the interests of the poor and illiterate but hard-working women. “We also need some association like our neighbour. We have to help the women organise exhibitions of their products. My centre has begun to do so and I hope others in civil society will follow suit. We have initiated the process that will include financers contacting us for the self-employed women’s contacts and we will arrange their meetings and ensure that the women get a fair share of their hard labour,” she maintained.

Dr Shah is hopeful that things will change for the women who are striving for survival and said, “We have to give them (the women) the required knowledge, basic literacy, and confidence to allow the fair sex to compete in the world that is dominated by the men.”
Source: The News

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