ISLAMABAD: With sheer determination and hard work, there are women in Pakistan who have achieved remarkable successes in different fields that were once considered forbidden for them.
Sidra Qasim from the district of Okara is one such example who in a very young age became a successful business entrepreneur.
Today she owns a company which has footprints in 17 countries. “I had to face opposition from my family and other difficulties but didn’t give up,” Ms Qasim, the co-founder of Markhor, a shoe-manufacturing firm, told Dawn at the Jinnah Institute where she had come to participate in a roundtable.
Organised by the Jinnah Institute, the roundtable “Women and Pakistan’s economic future” brought together women from across different fields, including restaurant owners, presidents of chambers of commerce, policy consultants and human rights activists.
Speaking at the roundtable, Sidra Qasim described her journey from a humble beginning to become the owner of a highly successful international brand. She said when she completed her Masters degree in Economics from the Government College Okara in 2010, she was asked by her parents to adopt teaching as a profession.
Sidra Qasim from Okara beat all odds to become owner of a company that now has footprints in 17 countries
“I was not interested in teaching and wanted to become a businesswoman. For this, I moved to Lahore and started a job there. In Lahore, I lived in a hostel. In 2012, I met Waqas Ali and then we launched the company to export leather shoes.”
She added: “I still remember when after holding meetings I would come back to the hostel late at nights, the watchman and other people would look at me with suspicion. That was really hurting for me. But I kept moving ahead to achieve my goals.”
The other participants of the roundtable also highlighted the role of women businesspersons in the national economy, challenges being faced by them and the role of the state to improve women entrepreneurs.
Dr Zakia Hashmi, who runs a business of exporting herbal medicines, said Islam gave full liberty to women to do business. “But in our country, women are not being given their rights in accordance with the teachings of Islam. Islam encourages women to do business of their choice,” she said.
Simi Kamal spoke about the importance for Pakistan to utilise its demographic dividend – a term used to describe the potential advantage of having a large percentage of youth in the population. She emphasised the need to develop and expand the ambitions of young Pakistanis which she said were often limited to securing steady employment.
Other participants also stressed the importance of incubation programmes for businesses which could help develop ideas into enterprises.
Naghmam Dad stressed the need to develop an enabling environment for women entrepreneurs, and drew upon her experiences to warn against letting literacy and social class becoming barriers for women seeking skills and opportunities.
Her idea was taken up further by policy specialist Ammara Durrani who criticised the dearth of data available on women entrepreneurs and suggested the setting up of a national agenda for the inclusion of women in entrepreneurship.
She also stressed the importance of highlighting stories and narratives regarding women in entrepreneurship, adding women preferred to join the services industry rather than setting up their own businesses.
Her observations were seconded by social activist Rukhsana Rashid, who noted that the government’s Vision 2025 lacked any policies regarding women in businesses. She also seconded the idea of the demographic dividend and shared her experiences of working with young students.
The discussion then focused on the topic of mentorship, and provided several strategies for future actions. These included connecting women entrepreneurs through virtual means, developing dedicated courses and modules in universities and business schools.
Naima Ansari, vice-president women chamber of commerce, spoke on her experiences of running and developing a successful business and asked women to raise their own children with broad views of what both genders could achieve.
Published in Dawn, November 19th, 2014