Issues and Challenges

Mighty as the Karakoram — Gilgit-Baltistan’s Women of Substance

Gilgit-Baltistan, where hospitality knows no bounds and new adventures await at every turn, is known for empowering its women, with the aim of strengthening its economy. The beautiful, rugged region has established various training centers that not only offer to teach life skills but also provide a platform to women to express themselves without distressing about financial constraints. There are countless stories that emerge out of the picturesque northern region, of women who have strived and succeeded in going further than their situation would have allowed them to. 

Hina Batool, a resident of Gilgit who got married when she was in Class 7, was blessed with two children by the time she reached Class 10. Before she had even reached maturity, her husband passed away. This was indeed a big loss for her and her family because there was not a single financial supporter around her. She did not even own her separate home where she could live easily with her two kids. Since she was not properly educated, she started a minor job in private sector as an accountant for a mere Rs. 2000. After a year of working hard for a job that did not reward her well, she started own business with Rs. 25,000 in Nisa Market, a local market for female entrepreneurs. She took a loan of Rs. 50,000 from Karakoram Cooperative Bank Limited, Gilgit-Baltistan on easy installments and invested all of it into her new business. By the grace of Almighty Allah, her business flourished quickly and owing to her constant hard work she was able to build her own house. After four years of walking three to four miles on foot daily, she was able to purchase her own car and started taking driving lessons. She faced numerous hurdles along the way but thinking about her children, she never let her instinct for survival falter. Her struggles throughout her life have made her an exemplary figure in Gilgit city.
Similar to Hina’s tale, is that of another brave lady from Hunza named Abida, who belongs to a very poor family. With her consistent efforts, Abida played a significant role in paving the way forward for her entire family. She also proved herself as one of the role models for the women of the region by being a beacon of hope and her philanthropic endeavours. She belonged to a low income family where her father could barely fulfil the basic necessities. Unfortunately, her father — the sole bread-winner of their family — became too sick to work after an accident. This shook the entire foundation of her family since they did not have the means to fulfil their most basic necessities; they even had to discontinue the  children’s education. The health issues of her father and primary needs of daily life became too much to deal with at the time. Abida decided to sell her property for above said needs and started her own small-scale business of tailoring after getting training from Fauji Foundation organization.
Luckily, at a 5-day training workshop for women of that area arranged by the Aga Khan Rural Support Programme (AKRSP) Business Marketing Training Center, she learnt how to expand low income businesses. She expanded her business to another village, Ghakuch, where she opened a small garments shop. The quality of her products started getting more recognition. Once her business was established, she started teaching tailoring techniques to 40 girls for free, encouraging them to start their own businesses. AKRSP supported her in arranging an exhibition in Islamabad for marketing her products and to get more knowledge of the business arena. Establishing a training center for young women in need has become her dream and she wants to do even more for her country by training fellow citizens to partake in our country’s development.
Shahina Farman is another such ray of sunshine. A well-educated woman of her town, she introduced local food and clothes to national and international markets, thus representing her homeland on international forums. In the beginning, she joined AKRSP and distributed seeds among ladies of the town and trained them in farming and grafting of plants. With the collaboration of AKRSP, she also trained women in making juices and dried fruits from local produce. Furthermore, she established a training center for stitching and making wallets, local caps and gowns for both men and women. She also arranged master training workshops for 40 females of another village who then started their own businesses after getting inspiration from Shahina. Today, there are 45 workers in her organization, all playing vibrant roles 
in the economy of Pakistan. Although she still hopes for government support to get more exposure in national and international markets, she is proud of all that she has achieved till now.
Hanisa Akhter, another exemplary name in the list of dedicated women, established a factory near Gilgit city with the support of her husband. There are more than 25 working women in her factory who are skilled in manufacturing local products. Apart from these, around 200 women are working indirectly from homes. This couple is promoting local and cultural products in both the national and international markets.
Razia Yousuf is another example for young ladies who lit the candle of hope in the less privileged women of her town. Razia owns an institution named Ibn-i-Maryam from where more than 100 women got skilled in stitching. More and more ladies are now being trained by her and playing their role in introducing the beautiful region of Gilgit-Baltistan to the world.
Mehr Perwer, is another woman who completed a four-month instructional class on gem stone cutting supervised by a Sri Lanka based master. She further trained other women to empower them in the art of gemstone cutting and cleaning. In this way they are participating in the development of Pakistan.
Sakina Bibi, president of Al-Shahbaz Women Organization, is based in the valley of Shiger, Baltistan. She did not let being a widow hinder her; today, she runs a vocational center in the region. She has trained many women to be a productive members of the society. She is honored with the first ever Mother of the Nation Award from ex-President Pervaiz Musharraf. Recently, she was also awarded with best Citi-PPAF (Pakistan Poverty Alleviation Fund) Micro-entrepreneurship Award at Gilgit-Baltistan level.
Amen Aamir, resident of Skardu, is the first female commercial pilot of Gilgit-Baltistan who excelled in flying within two years. She is focused on freedom of women according to the teachings of Islam. She appreciates the support and faith her father always showed in her and is now a huge example for women residing in remote areas of Gilgit-Baltistan.

There are countless examples of such women existing throughout the country. Progress has been made in the realm of women empowerment by government and NGOs but there is still a huge gap that needs to be bridged. Since Gilgit-Baltistan is a mountainous region and life here is comparably difficult than other regions of the country, special attention needs to be paid to the region and its people. Gilgit-Baltistan is not an industrial region like other regions of Pakistan. With a little attention, this region can flourish like the rest of the country and that can prove to be a major milestone for not only Pakistan’s economy, but for our future generations as well. HH

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