Baloch women’s empowerment dream transforming into reality

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Abdul Shakoor Khan,
APP,Quetta

QUETTA, June 3 (APP):The different stakeholders ‘ over the years efforts for raising Baloch Women’s voice to bring them in socio-economic sphere has finally started bearing fruits, with each passing day a success story is being added to our national canvas.
“Our dreams are coming true as we have started receiving the fruits of our efforts for a decent living. Though it is hard to manage between professional and household responsibilities but what we are having in return is a great relief,” said Fatima Bibi, whose handcrafted work succeeded to attract Serena Hotel Management which purchased 150 pieces of her embroidery to decorate their hotel.
Fatima Bibi, who hails from Naushki, is one among dozens of other creative women who had displayed their embroidery and handicrafts in an event organized by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
“Baloch Women have key role in province’s agriculture and livestock sector but despite their significant contribution they are receiving inadequate remuneration in response.” said FAO Balochistan’s Chief Technical Advisor, Marcel Stallen. “Due to cultural and social taboos, women mostly have no share in income gained from crops, livestock or other products,” he remarked.
“With the support of the Australian Government, FAO in collaboration with Government of Balochistan, has launched a couple of programmes in the province such as Australia Balochistan Agri Business Programme and Empowering women in Balochistan through agri-entrepreneurship. The project aims to empower women from Nushki, Chagai and Quetta districts through female enterprise development in the agri-sector. “Naturally, agriculture, livestock, handicrafts and embroidery, are the most potential areas in Balochistan where women can utilize their potential to earn their own income “ he said.
Asima Gulistan, the FAO team leader on women economic empowerment, stated that “The project is aimed at developing and strengthening agri-enterprises under women’s ownership to make them financially independent to improve their standard of living”. Typical female activities, she said, have been selected and supported by the project are; apricot processing, vegetable seedling production, poultry raising, sheep fattening and wool processing.
“After having completed successful rounds of social mobilization of women in far flung bordering areas, we have moved towards economic empowerment of the women,” Ahmed Jan Essa, Deputy programme Manager, maintained, adding that “The wool value chain has ample opportunities for rural women to earn their own income, from wool shearing, washing, grading, spinning, carpet weaving, embroidery and handicraft production.
“I was engaged with poultry business but due to lack of knowledge and risk factors my business was not growing and the AusABBA programme has been of great help for me to improve my business,” Bibi Imam Khatoon a farmer from Nauskhi said.
Another farmer from Quetta Bibi Musarrat sharing her success story said, due to women’s free mobility, who were earlier forced to stay home due to social taboos, has also helped them to work shoulder to shoulder with men and learn from their experiences in business.
Under the Australian Government funded economic empowerment project, women have been trained to prepare the sheep for shearing and later hand wash the sheared fleeces and grade, sort, spin and dye the wool. “Once wool goes through basic processing, it can be spun into yarn. The yarn can then be dyed and used in carpet making which is also mostly done by women, and a well-paying business.”
“To increase the wool yields, protect fiber length and increase the efficiency of women, wool spinning wheels have been introduced to the women of rural areas for the ease of doing business on national standards, Ahmed noted.
“I have been provided with a solar operated wool spinning wheel which has greatly increased the efficiency of my work and without dependency on electricity” mother of four children, 50-years-old Bano Bibi tells her story. “Now I can spin 1kg quantity of wool in one hour as compared to the traditional method of 250 grams in an hour. I can now easily earn Rs.7,000 per month and help my family buy basic necessities.
The President of the Balochistan Women Business Association, Sana Durani, when asked to comment on the development sector’s women empowerment and entrepreneurship initiative stated: “I have 5000 registered women in the Balochistan Women Business Association but only 50 are doing business in embroidery jewellery etc; adding that “due to lack of resources and financial constraints, we could not ensure outreach to the women of rural areas of Balochistan. With the support of the government and development sector  running projects on empowering women like FAO, we should be able to reach many more women in the districts to become entrepreneurs and start their own agri businesses,”
She added that in an environment where tribal restriction confines women to their houses and women having insufficient means of income, the Government’s support to the private sector was vital to help rural women to increase their income from agriculture and livestock sectors.
Women within the tribal culture of Balochistan, do not enjoy social safety nets and literacy rates in rural areas of Balochistan are deplorable as it is estimated that only two percent of the rural women are literate. Illiteracy, poverty, dearth of access to services, jobs and markets have increased women’s woes manifold as compared with other provinces. With very limited social and economic opportunities available, women in rural areas of Balochistan are solely dependent on their husbands and male family members and they are mostly left with insufficient means of income. The ongoing efforts are like a puff of fresh air for deprived Baloch women and still a long journey is ahead to give them recognition and status being enjoyed by the country’s developed areas.