Pakistan: With new businesses, women help communities tackle poverty

women in a discussion group
A female community organization meets in the district Haripur. (Photo: Huma Akram / UNDP Pakistan)

For decades Rukhsana Bibi lived the life of a housewife like most women in the village of Malikyar, in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. But everything changed when her husband, who had supported the family with his job in a local factory, was laid off when the business shut down without warning.

Rukhsana, who had never been to school and never worked outside her home, was thrust into looking for work.

Highlights

  • The project has reached 60,000 people in nearly 2,410 community organizations, of which 879 are women’s organizations.
  • There has been a 15 percent increase in household incomes of more than 4,000 people due to skills enhancement efforts.
  • Poverty levels have fallen by 5 percent in target areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

The impact rippled across the family.

“I could not afford to send my daughters to college,” Rukhsana says. “Those years were the toughest for us, and we accumulated huge debts.”

Determined to try to fend for her family, Rukhsana took up sewing clothes for neighbours, but the money she earned was inadequate to meet the family’s basic needs.

As she and her family struggled to cope, Rukhsana learned about a vocational programme being introduced in the village. The programme, supported by the UNDP’s Community Resilience Initiative, and funded by Japan and the European Union, set up a women’s community organization, called ‘Roshni,’ to help women earn a living. Rukhsana was selected as its first president and nominated to attend a three-month course in hand embroidery.

The course helped improve her tailoring and embroidery skills. It also taught her valuable entrepreneurial skills, and led her to start a small business at home.

“My monthly income increased from a paltry PKR 3,000 to PKR 10,000, (around 100 USD) allowing me to meet the expenses of my family. I have also been able to pay back our debts and my daughters are now going to college,” she says.

Recently, Rukhsana visited Turkey with a group of entrepreneurs on a trip facilitated by the Mardan Chamber of Commerce and Industry. There she sold her products and secured new orders. She also represented Pakistan at an international exhibition in India.

Now she conducts training workshops on embroidery and stitching for various non-governmental organizations. Roshni’s success has helped several other women through training and skill development programmes.

Their earnings have led to a 15 percent increase in household incomes across the district of Haripur.

The community-led projects aim at raising the living standards of communities by focusing on providing health, education and jobs; restoring infrastructure; fostering economic stability and reviving local businesses. In all projects, 5 to 10 percent of the cost was shared by the communities themselves.

Since the introduction of the projects by UNDP, poverty levels in the targeted communities, including Rukhsana’s village, decreased by 5 percent.

The resilience efforts have included more than 60,000 people in nearly 2,410 community organizations, including 879 women’s organizations.

The women’s community organizations have been more responsive to the needs of children and vulnerable groups and have worked on skills training, drinking and agricultural water projects, solar power, health, sanitation and education.

These community participation projects benefitted nearly three million people in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

By Fatimah Inayet, UNDP Pakistan