Islamabad - Robina Kosar, a 27-year-old widow, is supporting her family in a village of Skardu, Gilgit–Baltistan, by pursuing a profession for livelihood rarely opted by women; she is an electrician.

A mother of two was devastated when her husband died of cancer about four years ago. She had to look after her children, her ailing parents and younger siblings. Having an inborn inclination towards electrical work, she got herself enrolled in a project called ‘enhancing capability and leadership for youth’ run by the Aga Khan Rural Support Programme (AKRSP).

After undergoing a short training of two months, Kosar started repairing small electrical appliances and electrical wire systems. She runs a shop of electrical supplies and accessories at home also.  Her average earning is Rs 30,000 per month.

As she chose to travel a path less travelled by, the people in her village were shocked, initially. “People used to be amazed initially, but now they have become familiar. My many customers are now women. And many women aspire to join different non-traditional professions and men don’t object,” she said.

Kosar along with other women entrepreneurs from rural settings was participating a Women’s Economic Empowerment Forum organised yesterday by the High Commission of Canada. The Forum brought together a wide range of development professionals and partners, rural women, the private sector, government representatives, experts on gender and economic participation, as well as practitioners.

Yasmeen Kareem, gender advisor at AKRSP, said under the said project in Gilgit-Baltistan about 20,000 rural youth were trained with different professional skills and among them 50 percent were women. She said an assessment revealed that 70 percent of women got involved in decision-making and domestic violence and poverty reduced after women became economically empowered after trainings and starting their businesses. 

The Canadian government has been running various projects through local and international non-governmental organisations in various districts to empower disadvantaged rural women as well as for poverty alleviation. This forum gave a platform to rural women entrepreneurs who benefited from such projects and share their experiences and stories.

Bakhsh Ilahi from Multan, 42, was also left alone with her two daughters when her husband contracted second marriage because she could not give birth to a baby boy. She mustered up courage and got herself registered with the community infrastructure improvement project (CIIP) run by CARE-International, Pakistan. She was trained as a road maintenance team member.

“I constructed roads for two years for which I was paid Rs 5600 per month and about Rs 1100 went in my savings per month.” Later, with the savings she started a small grocery shop at her house. She expanded the shop with the passage of time and now she also sells cosmetics products for women.

Working on the roads and later running a store was challenging as these are predominantly labelled as male jobs. But gradually things changed when the money flew in, says Ilahi.  “Now people ask for such opportunities so that they can also get employment,” she said.

Ilahi’s both daughters are studying in schools and she is being consulted in every important matter at home and in the village too. She is a successful entrepreneur who is looked upon with respect and dignity.

By involving women that constitute over 50 percent of the population, Pakistan can enhance its per capita income, achieve its development and gender equality goals and help stimulate sustainable economic growth, said Canadian High Commissioner Heather Cruden.

“The ongoing marginalisation of women is a key barrier to sustainable economic growth,” said Cruden. “It is my hope that more women can become literate and informed wage-earners who can then make better choices for themselves and their children,” she said adding “when women and girls are empowered and have equal access to economic opportunities, poverty decreases, opportunities for development expand, and entire families, communities and countries benefit.”