Pakistani Women Make Community, Income Through Art

BY jbreslow  June 3, 2010 at 2:32 PM EST

Seventy percent of Pakistan’s women live and work in rural communities, and while most of them farm land their entire lives, very few own property or earn their own income. But, in a village in Pakistan’s Punjab province, women farmers are turning to traditional arts not just as a means of expression, but also as a way to make money of their own.

In 2003, Sumeena Nazir founded the Potohar Organization for Development Advocacy, a women’s development agency, in her hometown of Chakwal to provide rural women an opportunity to form support networks in their own neighborhoods.

“One of the biggest challenges is the overall socioeconomic and legal structure” of Pakistan, Nazir said. “Women are seen and treated in a subordinate manner in Pakistan,” she said, adding that in many areas, women are unable to own property and seldom leave their homes.

The program trains dozens of women on farming and health care practices so they can better care for themselves and their families. Art was introduced to the program early on to help women utilize creative talents missing in their daily lives and to provide a social support network.

Art has also provided some women with another benefit: an income of their own. “Some economical background is also very important,” said Sumaira Ishfaq, the organization’s director of agriculture. Pieces the women produce are sold at fundraiser events and at PODA’s Islamabad headquarters, with profits going to the artists who produced them.

The program in Chakwal quickly grew from just a few of Nazir’s close friends to include most of her neighbors. Nazir initially brought in artists from outside Chakwal to train the women in traditional Pakistani styles, including motifs and designs typical of Kashmiri artists.

Since then, training has been passed along by women within the village, from the veterans to the novices, and the program became the flagship for the four PODA centers in the Potohar area of Pakistan.

Reporting for this story was funded by a fellowship from the “South Asian Journalists Association”:http://www.saja.org/.