Entrepreneurship plays an important role in empowering women in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Despite taboos and some negative stereotypes about working women, young women are increasingly interested in starting their own business. The digital age has created an enabling environment that allows women to start and operate online businesses while working from home.
Experts say entrepreneurship should be introduced as a junior high school subject. This should help young people to grow up with innovative business ideas.
The Women Chamber of Commerce and Industry (WCCI) was founded in Peshawar in 2010. The aim was to promote entrepreneurship to empower women socially and economically and to highlight their role in economic growth.
Since its inception, the WCCI has played an important role in raising the awareness of women to start their own business. It has also helped build the capacity of online entrepreneurs and help women market their products both nationally and internationally.
Small and Medium Enterprise Development Authority (SMEDA) is an autonomous agency of the Government of Pakistan under the Ministry of Industry and Manufacturing. The SMEDA was founded in October 1998 to promote and facilitate the development and growth of small and medium-sized enterprises in the country.
The SMEDA has several initiatives for women entrepreneurs in KP to their credit. These include capacity building, a network of incubators and development centers, improved access to finance and marketing, and technical assistance and support for emerging start-ups.
Rashid Arman, SMEDA provincial chief, says that considering the potential of women, the SMEDA-KP has taken special initiatives to enable them to contribute to the country’s economy.
“The women here have the natural ability to take on demanding entrepreneurial tasks. They have often demonstrated their skills with their products at exhibitions and demonstration workshops.”
Shamama Arbab, Founding President of WCCI, Peshawar, narrates The news on Sunday that the foundation of the Peshawar chapter was a great milestone. “It used to be completely unthinkable to leave home in a region plagued by militancy, let alone start a business,” she says. Cultural taboos, she says, prevented women from doing anything of their own.
“Not so long ago, women’s involvement in business activities was considered immoral. But women today have the vision and the skills to start entrepreneurial projects and lead independent lives,” says Shamama Arbab.
She says that the inclusion of women in economic and political structures and processes can guarantee a nation’s progress.
“Women are involved in companies here. But school-level awareness of entrepreneurship can do wonders. I developed an 8th grade curriculum. Unfortunately, I haven’t heard from anyone about this. During one of my trips to India, I brought up the idea and one participant expressed interest. Bangladesh has already started the school courses,” she says.
“Today, women proudly own businesses. However, the CP government must take steps to facilitate women’s entrepreneurship and expand the scope of business for them to ensure their full participation.”
Azra Jamshed, the newly elected president of WCCI, says around 450 women are affiliated with the organization. Of these, 375 are regular members running various businesses. “WCCI has trained businesswomen to manage time and arrange visits. Some of them have received international awards,” she explains.
The WCCI has played its role in empowering women in the province. Most business women not only take care of their own business, but also motivate other young women to start new business initiatives. The trend picks up on outdated clichés and defies them.
Zahidullah Shinwari, former President of the Sarhad Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SCCI), says women’s entrepreneurship has not been able to develop to a desirable extent due to locational disadvantages, law and order problems and limited economy. “But women’s contribution to cottage industries — sewing, handicrafts, jewellery, shoes, processing — and agribusiness is enormous,” he says.
“We are very proud that female entrepreneurship at KP has increased exponentially over the years. Their presence in unions and business forums is very encouraging,” he adds. The WCCI Mardan and Charasadda are also operational, he says, adding that the WCCI chapters in Abbottabad and Haripur are in the process of becoming operational.
KP society is changing rapidly when it comes to women’s participation in social, political, and cultural activities. Human rights activists are trying to improve and advance the cause of women’s empowerment. The CP government has yet to contribute to the cause of women’s rights in terms of their formal business presence, education and investment.
Shamama Arbab says that young entrepreneurs are well acquainted with modern technology and can therefore contribute more to economic growth.
“Not so long ago, women’s involvement in business activities was considered immoral. But women today have the vision and skills to start their own entrepreneurial projects and live independent lives,” she says. “Young women are provided with education and have access to modern tools. They enjoy more freedom compared to before.”
The author is a Peshawar-based journalist. He writes mainly about art, culture, education, youth and minorities. He tweets @Shinwar-9