Empowering Women in Pakistan Through Business Development

By jaafarali

Women in Pakistan are traditionally responsible for providing for their families, often with meagre resources. They are “invisible” actors when it comes to economic activity, existing outside of the formal economy in what is a predominantly patriarchal society – particularly in rural areas, where many women are confined to their homes.

Studies have shown that empowering women in business, the workplace, and household management can improve overall economic activity. That’s why the Market Development Facility (MDF), an Australian Government program, has been focussing on women’s economic empowerment as part of its work in Pakistan.

“Women’s economic empowerment is an integral part of MDF’s strategy and practice,” explains MDF Team Leader Paul Keogh. “Ninety-six percent of MDF partnerships in Pakistan benefit women and girls” by providing access to simple technology and good information.

Strengthening economic well-being and agency

Shabana Qamar is a leading silage entrepreneur and headmistress at a school in Khanewal, Punjab, Pakistan. In 2017, she started selling silage (feed for livestock) in her village, and as her understanding of the material and strong ties with the community have grown, so has her business.

“Women of my community see me as a role model and want to learn the tips and tricks of silage making and interestingly, entrepreneurship as well.” says Shabana.

By working with private sector players to connect women in remote regions to formal markets, women like Shabana are able to sell their produce at better prices, cutting down the long agriculture value chain and creating more options to generate income.

Providing access to finance

With the help of local responsible microfinancing loans, Kausar Parveen and her dairy business is an example of a successful woman entrepreneur and a change agent in a location where many are convinced that progress for women is either slow or impossible.

Khushhali Microfinance Bank Limited (KMBL), a mobile banking van “Branch on Wheels,” provides financial services to villages in remote areas in Pakistan. As an unmarried woman, Kausar was excluded from family decision-making, but microfinancing gave her a new opportunity outside of the home.

“My life changed when the mobile bank facility came to my village,” she says. “I was able to get a loan of USD 290 (PKR45,000), which allowed me to set up my dairy business.”

Her achievement has inspired other women in their village to establish their own businesses and move into leadership roles.

Using information communication technology to save crops

Mehar Jan is a smallholder farmer cultivating apricots and potatoes on her farm, located in the remote mountainous valley of Shigar in Skardu. She listens to Telenor’s (one of Pakistan’s largest Telecom companies) weather and crop advisory service at least three times a week.

Recently, her potato yield dropped to 500kg due to a pest attack, but having learned about crop spraying techniques through Telenor’s service, she tried them out and the next year, her farm’s yield increased to 4000kg – earning an extra USD300.

Innovative models using ICT provide critical information to women farmers in remote regions of Pakistan who are otherwise disconnected from agricultural services. Telenor provides free agricultural advisory support to smallholders in remote regions of Pakistan on their phones. Of the 70,000 farmers in remote Gilgit-Baltistan and Chitral who accessed this service, almost 50% were women.

These are women champions who, given simple technology and good information, have been able to improve milk production from their dairy animals and who now speak with confidence about how seed quality affects sales and prices. Embracing each opportunity with passion, many women have become entrepreneurs, farmers, and community leaders, breaking down stereotypes as they choose.

Following the work in women’s economic empowerment, MDF developed a book that speaks to the work of empowering women in the dairy, meat, leather and horticulture sectors in rural and peri-urban areas. This collection of intimate and vibrant photographs of women at work honours women by telling their stories – of struggle, courage, resilience and willingness to learn.

MDF is funded by the Australian Government and implemented by Palladium, in partnership with Swisscontact.