ISLAMABAD: Ambreen Fatima, 22, was decorating an elephant key chain with colourful beads and ribbons as she hoped for orders from visitors at the Women Artisans at Work exhibition, organised by Lok Virsa on Thursday to mark National Working Women’s Day.
Ms Fatima set up the stall with her mother, an artisan doll-maker, and now makes traditional decorative pieces, puppets, key chains, wall hangings, bells and other items to expand their business.
“My mother raised me and gave me an education with the help of this small handicraft business,” she told Dawn. “Now it’s my turn to help her and expand our limited business. Such exhibitions are good opportunities for us to get orders.”
The exhibition featured eight master artisans in specialised crafts including doll making, embroidery, glass painting, weaving and truck art. Stalls were decorated with weaving machines, such as spinning wheels and khaadi fabric.
Dec 22 was declared National Working Women’s Day in March 2010, after legislation was passed against sexual harassment, to ensure that the contributions of Pakistan’s working women are made visible and the discrimination, harassment and other issues they face are given attention.
Haji Bibi from Hunza was another artisan featured at the exhibition. Her stall held cross-stitched items, including shoes, wall hangings, lace, hats, belts and dried fruit. “Our business has been hurt by the security situation in Pakistan since very few foreigners visit our areas and they were our main customers,” she said.
She said she also operates a handicrafts shop and often visits China, where there is a huge market for her goods.
Sara Sheraz said she travelled from Lahore to attend the exhibition, which is an opportunity to buy unique, handmade items.
“My home is full of such handmade interior decor items. Such things are not available in big malls. These women are great for not only running their homes but keeping our culture alive and passing it on to our next generations,” she said.
Lok Virsa executive director Dr Fouzia Saeed also spoke at the event.
She said: “I want to acknowledge the women working in occupations associated with our traditional cultures. We have women who are potters, those who weave, teach in the remotest villages, poets, writers, folklorists, Sufis, folk singers, those who do the meena kari on lacquered wood, embroider shawls, make clothes, knot carpets. But when you say farmer you think of a man, when you use the word potter you think of a man. Women’s contribution in carrying on our traditions and the richness of our culture has not been fully acknowledged.”
She said women often remain invisible to the public because they work as artists and craftswomen, as well as in other traditional and untraditional jobs.
She added: “I also want to acknowledge the work that women do on the domestic front, playing a significant role in nurturing life and maintaining family networks. In both professional and domestic roles, women not only face lack of recognition but also harassment and discrimination. National Working Women’s Day is an opportunity for us to ensure that their contribution is recognized and impediments addressed.”