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Empowering Pakistani Women with Embroidery

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Download Pakistan’s Swat Valley is famous for its traditional embroidery, but it was banned under the Taliban.

Handicraft centres were forced to close and women were warned not to leave their homes without a male family member.

The Taliban has gone and life is slowly changing, but poverty is still acute in many villages.

Some of the women making embroidery rely solely on their handicraft skill.

As Mudassar Shah reports, embroidery is empowering the women and helping to prevent the return of the Taliban.

27-year-old Shima is busy making embroidery at an embroidery center in Mingora.

“There are no job opportunities for illiterate women like me. If there was no centre for embroidery, I would be working in other people’s homes. I love to work at the embroidery centre because I can work when I want to. If I don’t feel well, I just take a day off. I wouldn’t be able to do that if I worked in someone else’s house.”

Shima only studied until 5th grade. Shima’s mother is a house wife while her father is blind and can’t work.

“Most women who work in the embroidery center have daughters. And they’re saving the money they earn from here to buy dowries for their daughters’ marriages in the future. It will help girls from poor families a lot, as their brothers won’t care when their sisters get married.”

The embroidery centre was started by Musarat Ahmedzeb, a princess of Swat’s former royal family.

She started the centre in 2007, when the Taliban was still in the Valley. But for her, the Taliban was not the biggest challenge.

“We couldn’t find any materials for the embroidery. We couldn’t find threads. And it was hard to market the embroidery or to buy supplies. But if you’re asking about threats, I’m not afraid of anyone. I’m just afraid of my God.”

Musarat was inspired by a poor widow she met in Mingora.

“She was a widow. And I asked her, ‘What if provide you some work, would you like that instead of begging for money?’ Then I saw her eyes are shinning. She replied, ‘If I can work, why should I begging?’ This woman changed my perspective completely.”

Musarat used her personal savings to buy electric sewing machines, looms and other materials.

There are now three embroidery centres in the Valley employing more than a hundred women.

“I need an outlet. I need recognition. We don’t want aid. We just want our work to be appreciated. Give us the outlet. I don’t think it’s such a big deal. It’ll change so many women life.

Q: If not, they will become vulnerable again?

“They will become vulnerable.... they will become vulnerable.”

Q: Will they turn to the Taliban again?

“Why won’t they? That’s why we have to feed the stomach. With an empty stomach, everything is possible.”

The embroidery centres are now producing colourful Swati embroidery for dresses, napkins and other products and are selling them in many big cities.

And the women behind these beautiful crafts are trained for free.

Musarat believes it’s important to empower women in the Valley.

“It’s the woman who suffers, it’s the woman who produces a child, it’s the woman who is the strength, who guides the child one path to another path. So if we provide a sustainable income for the women, you can see her relaxed. Then what she would do? She would send her child to school, she would think of the child’s welfare. So I think it’s the woman that we have to concentrate.”


Last Updated ( Monday, 14 January 2013 17:30 )  

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