Stepping out of the Shadows

Empowering women towards their productive role in household economy

Location: Karachi, Pakistan. 29th Sep 2015

Anyone who has been to the seaside in Karachi would have noticed a row of non-descript simple single-storied houses that flank several meters of the road to Sandspit. Families in Kakapir, this settlement of fishermen in Karachi, are struggling to make both ends meet for their most basic necessities such as health and sanitation facilities. Proximity to the city has been of little advantage to them, as illiteracy in the community is prevalent and men are still hesitant to take on other means of income.

In Kakapir village, men do not move out of the village to seek new and more promising opportunities: to them, only fishing matters. However, overfishing, sea pollution, beach-front development and mangrove deforestation have threatened their very livelihood source.

With the beach being so close, women of many households often collect top shells in net cages which are then dried, cleaned, packaged and exported to countries such as Thailand. Women also engage in small-scale household level income generating activities such as embroidery and cooking food to sell in nearby shops. Even though there were avenues to generate income, families were not optimizing their earning potential and talent because of the lack of capacity development opportunities.

Kakapir is a conservative community where women are not allowed to venture out on their own. Because of their social, economic and political exclusion, women in this village have little say in financial decisions and are hindered from realizing the productive roles they can play.

Sustainable Initiatives (SI), with funding from Mangroves for the Future (MFF) initiated a project entitled, ‘Empowering Fisherfolk Women (Enhancing Coastal Community Resilience through Economic Mobilisation of Women and Youth).’ The project aimed to develop the productive capacity of 80 local women by providing them technical and vocational training in home-based sewing business, hand embroidery and baking to give them livelihood options.

Gender equality is one of the cross-cutting issues being addressed by the MFF initiative which recognizes that the involvement, contribution and role of both men and women are important to the functioning and well-being of coastal communities. Lack of recognition for gender equality’s importance can result in failure to meet sustainable livelihood goals in ecosystem dependent coastal communities.

At the onset of the project there was a lot of skepticism within the community about its implications, and the target beneficiaries lacked confidence in their own abilities to start micro-enterprises. They initially participated in the vocational activities as a means of recreation, but they eventually became inspired to take advantage of training sessions. Their determination was evident in their regular attendance, and right after training some women started catering to orders of their relatives and neighbors on their own. Sample swatches of embroidered work were shown to wholesale and retail buyers in Karachi markets whose shops have also expressed interest in selling products from the trained women in Kakapir, especially during prime seasons of festivals and weddings.

As a result of the project initiatives, one beneficiary, Khair-un-nisa, has set up a tailoring shop in her house and has since been overwhelmed by orders for hand-stitched garments. “The SI staff gave us all a challenge and said those who would get orders on their own would be rewarded,” Khair-un-nisa says. “I did--and they gave me a sewing machine and a cutting table which I have put up in a room in my house dedicated to my business. Ever since training I have been receiving work orders from my neighbors and other village women in dozens.”

Previously, local women used to go to Lyari or Mauripur to get their clothes stitched, but Khair-un-nisa’s business is nearer and charges less. Because of orders, the workload increased and she is now joined by her sister-in-law.

Aisha, the community based SI facilitator, feels that the project introduced something useful and worthwhile. “I am planning to start a training centre for hand embroidery in the community school and have talked to the principal. I will charge a nominal fee to cover the material cost. This training will help school girls learn something useful for their future. Currently, I am working on four hand embroidery orders for my cousin’s wedding, and it is so much fun.” She adds jokingly, “Sometimes my Chacha (Uncle) and Chachi (Aunt) also sit around the frame and do embroidery with me. They have also started enjoying this work.”

Saima, a resident in Kakapir who developed a love for baking during the training states, “I am so happy to learn a completely new skill. At first I thought baking at home was not possible, as we do not have fancy ovens out here. But then SI staff invited us to a demonstration class and showed how cakes and cupcakes could be made on a normal stove in a big pot. I can now make a variety of cookies, cakes, donuts and even pizza on my stove. I usually get birthday and wedding orders from family and friends though I have not set proper rates. I tell them to provide me ingredients, and leave it up to them to pay as much as they please. Some pay PKR (Pakistani Rupee) 50; whereas, others pay around PKR 300 to 500 per order. I have been trained to be particular about my profits, but these are the people I know and I cannot haggle too much with them. Maybe over time I can be more assertive. Right now I am just a beginner.”

The project, though implemented on a small scale, has achieved significant results for local women who previously have had no access to income-generating activities. Many trained women have started accruing monetary benefits by working on small orders. But more importantly, in a community where the entrepreneurship spirit was absent, it was the women who have started taking steps towards setting up businesses and enterprises. Women are determined to play a more proactive role in their household development.

SI is continuing its efforts to sustain this change by providing the market link to buyers who would give regular work to the women. For bakery items, market links with nearby public and private establishments are being made. As for stitching and embroidery, retailers and boutique owners have been introduced to the project beneficiaries for work orders.


For more information about the MFF project in Kakapir, please visit the page Empowering Fisherfolk Women 


About MFF and gender

MFF recognizes that gender equality is fundamental to conservation and sustainable development, and has established gender as a cross-cutting or strategic consideration in its programme. MFF activities are designed to ensure that both men and women equally share the benefits achieved from the promotion of sustainable livelihoods and sustainable coastal resource management plans.

Read more about the MFF Strategic Framework and Action Plan for Gender Integration which sets out the programme’s principles for and approaches to gender integration

Collective effort by women on completing hand embroidery orders in Kakapir, Karachi, Pakistan

Collective effort by women on completing hand embroidery ord ... , Karachi, Pakistan © MFF-IUCN, 2015

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