Iqra - overcoming barriers to economic empowerment

Women Entrepreneurship Development Project, Nathiagali Area Integrated Programme,

By Nadia Qasim

Iqra Bibi, 23, lives in a small house in Bandi Maira, in one of the remote and rough terrains of Galliat, situated just 18.6 km south east in the (region of) district Abbottabad. The main tourist market close by gives a prosperous image of this region to the people who come every summer to this beautiful resort. However, they do not know that not far away where Iqra lives still remains away from the comforts of life such as health care, roads and access to income generating opportunities. She lives in a male dominated society where women usually stay at home and often face discriminative behaviour.

Like other poor families living in Bandi Maira, Iqra also takes care of her younger siblings. Her father is a retired government servant, and only earns Rs. 7000 (US $77.78) per month from his government pension. He is quite old and is not able to do much labour work in the village. Living with such a little amount every month, it is really hard for the family of Iqra to meet their basic needs.

“I always wanted to do something for my old father and my family living in poverty,” said Iqra.

Due to her conservative environment, Iqra could never get permission to go to a job either inside or outside her village. Even her little brothers didn’t allow her to go to work, as they consider it a shame for them if a girl in a family earns.

But Iqra didn’t lose hope. She started doing some voluntary beautician work in the village, offering to do make up for the village girls for different ceremonies, like wedding parties. Due to pressure from her family, she was not allowed to take payment from such families; however, she continued this work free of charge. This work gave her at least one benefit: she remained connected with the village girls and women. Iqra always talked to her friends, telling them she wanted to do something different. Having a job was her dream.

Luckily, Iqra had twelve years of formal education which also gave her some confidence among her peer groups in the village. “I often thought of ways to utilize my own abilities to do some job and earn money to live a respectable life in my village,” Iqra said. She always wanted to search such opportunities.

“I remember a bright morning of October in 2011 in my life when the social mobilization team of World Vision knocked at our door,” said Iqra.

“They offered me to join a new project [Women Entrepreneurship Development] which WV was going to start for the women and girls of my village who want to undergo some training and start earning. I thought ‘my dream is now coming true’,” she further said.

However this was not something easy to start. When Iqra showed her willingness to join the project and start her training, her family stood against her wishes. They preferred poverty instead of allowing her to do any training or to join the WV project for income generation for women.
World Vision staff members talked to her family, about allowing her to join in the project activity. However her family didn’t agree. And that was the time when Iqra started convincing her family that there is no shame if a girl does a job.

“It is even easy for me to do some work within the village along with other women and girls so no one in the village will have any objection,” said Iqra to her family.

With her continued struggle and passion, Iqra was able to convince her family to allow her to join the project, but they were afraid of reaction from the rest of the villagers. After obtaining her father’s permission, she started attending candle making classes in the village run by WV staff. WV social mobilization staff also convinced her brothers to allow her in the project activities with the confidence that the WV project will give full respect to the local culture and norms. Her brothers finally agreed.

“Being a girl it was very difficult to work here in my village where acceptance level is very low that a women can also work and support her family but my thinking was different,” said Iqra.

“I decided to learn candle making and wished to start my own business. Although at village level, it looked quite difficult to me how I will start a good business from a training only, however after going through business cycle training I was able to understand how I can improve my skills, start production and sell my products,” said Iqra.

“When I attended trainings on different competencies, I was then able to realize that there are number of skills which I can improve, e.g., I can do a good planning for marketing,” said Iqra.

The World Vision team observed these hidden skills of Iqra after different trainings. Iqra joined the WED staff and started visiting Abbottabad city markets and negotiating with shop keepers, presenting her products of beautiful candles which she prepared after the trainings.

“When I received startup material from WV as support to start production, I was able to make different stylish candles at village level in bulk,” shares Iqra. As Iqra can read and write, she is also able to maintain a record of her small business easily.

In two months after completing her training and receiving startup material, Iqra earned almost Rs. 15,000 (US $166.67) by selling these candles. With this good start, Iqra has now contacted her cousin in Rawalpindi city and plans to visit Rawalpindi and meet some market owners and establish business linkages and get orders for decorated candles. Expanding her business would be a great hope for Iqra to become a successful entrepreneur.

With the confidence of her family and her relatives, Iqra feels motivated.

“Iqra was one of those nominees. She was also a self-motivated member of village committee and actively involved in village level mobilization for women participation and development,” says Mobin Qamar, Project Coordinator (Women Entrepreneurship Development Project), WV Pakistan.

“The most important thing is that I am now living a respectable life. My little brothers and my father do not tease me and I am happy that I can support my family, which was otherwise very difficult for my old father,” said Iqra. “I am confident that my future is bright. I earn as my father and my brothers earn and it is not only helping our family financially but also giving my family a sense that girls can also work,” she further added.

Iqra has also started training eight other local girls from her own village in candle making.

”When all girls of my village give me respect and call me their Teacher, I feel very proud and happy. First I was kind of an unknown person in my village, but not now, as villagers now started realizing that this is a respectable work which a girl can do in the village,” said Iqra. “Women Entrepreneurship Development Project came up as sun ray in my life and enables me to contribute for my family livelihoods as well as my own economic development. I am very thankful to WV Pakistan for such encouraging initiative exclusively for women,” she further added.