Shah Faisal Afridi

We need to explore innovative ways to overcome the formidable obstacle to the empowerment of women and gender equality. There is a need to focus and devise strategies to enhance women’s role in decision-making and power sharing in all tiers of the government. This would not only increase the active labour force but also empowers the women.

Pakistani womenfolk, especially in the rural areas, have suffered due to atrocities, like rape, acid throwing, honor killings, forced marriages, forced prostitution, etc, which were committed on them. So, a major remedy to the problem is women empowerment. The need of the hour is to drive for change not only from the legislative corridors, but also the civil society organisations, including NGOs, media and opinion leaders.

Women empowerment is impossible without the economic participation of women and for this, women has to be encouraged to take part in business and entrepreneurship. Handicrafts sector is the only sector that is directly linked with the skills of women so there is dire need to better tap this segment.

Nearly 65 per cent of women earn their livelihood from handicraft work. Cottage or household industries occupy an important position especially in rural set-up as traditionally in those areas women are not encouraged to work outside their homes. Therefore, a significant number of women in Pakistan engaged in handicraft and tailoring activities. For example, up to 30 to 40 percent women in NWFP are involved in the cottage and handicraft industries. The range of handicraft products include ajrak, ceramics, articles made of date leaves, farassi rugs, jandi, khes, musical instruments, caps, straw products, bangles, crucia work, embroideries, kashi, rilli, Thari carpets and woodcarving.

Handicrafts were once a major source of livelihood for millions of people and majority of them were women. But the rising cost of inputs, difficult access to credit and poor marketing network, have brought the industry to its present dismal state: Revival of the handicrafts industry, however, lies in the development of infrastructure, provision of financial support to artisans, establishment of direct links between buyers and artisans, elimination of middlemen and improved marketing facilities.

The benefits of establishing and promoting cottage and handicraft industries are many. They not only provide additional employment and raise the standard of living for both rural and urban populations but also prevent migration from rural areas to the cities; moreover these industries make effective use of local raw materials which also promotes primary industries like agriculture and mining. Cottage and small-scale industries do not use much imported material or equipment. The waste of large-scale industries, particularly the cotton, sugar and steel industries can be used to make by-products.

Efforts should be made to promote handicraft and cottage industries by establishing new industrial estates and cottage industry villages for bringing together the cottage industry at one place.

Shifting of Chinese handicrafts industry to Pakistan can play a momentous role in empowering Pakistani women. China could be very helpful in attaining this goal as China was one of the leading producers of hand made products with an around 30pc share in the world trade but with the technological advancements the handmade sector was transformed to machines.

China is one of the leading producers of handicrafts with an around 30pc share in the world trade of handicrafts. It is also well known that tremendous mechanisation has taken place in China in production of handicrafts largely due to excessive demand in all kinds of handicrafts. In terms of industry setup, private enterprises and enterprises invested with foreign capital are dominant in China’s handicraft manufacturing industry. Handicraft manufacturing industry is a labour-intensive industry and is the traditional light industry of China.

Currently handicraft manufacturing industry of China is facing challenges due to expensive labour whereas demand of the traditional handmade products is on rise. Therefore it would be very beneficial for Pakistan to initiate joint ventures with China in the handicrafts sector on the basis of buy-back guarantee under which raw material and wages would be provided by China and in return market driven handicrafts items would be produced by Pakistan.

Therefore Pakistan can become the manufacturing house of handicrafts for China as Pakistan is enriched with a labour captive skilled human resource in the form of rural women; moreover like in several other sectors, there is an intense similarity of interest between Pakistan and China in respect to production and exports of giftware and handicrafts.

One should realise that the economic growth alone cannot guarantee social harmony and gender equity, especially in an under developed society, national development must be balanced by a strong emphasis on equitable distribution of development benefits. The philosophy of development i.e., growth with equity is to be embodied in all national development policies.

The writer is President PCJCCI and CEO Haier Ruba SEZ