Empowering women: A place to hone talent into marketable skills

At the centre, women learn potential income-generating skills



ISLAMABAD: Almost half of Pakistanis are women, making a strong case for them to pursue education and training to contribute to the household income in times of high inflation. While government institutions tend to be viewed with scepticism, a training centre for women in Islamabad is determined to help them rise to the challenge.

At the Women’s Welfare and Development Centre, uneducated women learn potential income-generating skills. The centre’s assistant director Dr Ismat Afridi, who belongs to the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and is the only career woman in her family, believes more women need to be empowered to supplement household incomes to build a progressive nation.

Syeda Nighat, a shy 22-year-old who is learning to sew, admits that she has no motivation to pursue her intermediate degree, despite of being admitted to a college.

As the first-born, Nighat is a potential breadwinner, but her father has instilled in her the notion that a woman’s place is at home. “He won’t allow me to get a job,” she said with quiet resignation. “What is the point of studying?”

While girls like Nighat are not seeking financial independence through the skills imparted at the centre, there are others brimming with ambition such as 19-year-old Robina Nawaz.

Confident and outspoken, the young apprentice said her aunt, who runs a boutique, is hoping she will bring creativity and skill to the business once she completes her diploma in commercial embroidery.

For Dr Afridi, the process of upgrading the institution to enable women to learn fashion design, computers and marketing alongside traditional skills, was a challenging one. Students learn about grooming and the latest products in the market, she said of a beauticians’ workshop for over a 100 girls sponsored by a cosmetics company.

Rehana Asad was attending the workshop with her two-year-old son sleeping on her shoulder. Focused on the transformation of her colleague by a visiting beautician, she was closely following how to glue fake eyelashes on a model’s now aqua eyelids. Asad, who wants to be a beautician, leaves her son at the institution’s daycare centre while she attends classes.

There is a common misconception that these courses are for schoolgirls, said Dr Afridi.  “The centre caters to mostly low-income women who are deprived of career opportunities.”

It is up to the graduates to set up their salons or businesses, the idea is to empower them, she added.

The centre charges a minimal fee ranging between Rs150 and Rs500 depending on the course, though this can be waived for those who are unable to afford it.

“If you give anything away for free, people will most certainly take it for granted,” said Dr Afridi, “Whenever people say government institutions don’t do anything worthwhile, I tell them to come visit my centre,” she added.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 19th, 2012.

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