Pakistan has significant challenges in closing the gender gap on economic participation. The Global Gender Gap Report, puts Pakistan at 143, among the worst performing countries in terms of economic participation and opportunities for women. Lack of income earning opportunities, make women further vulnerable, and less able to mitigate the impacts of conflict.
Farhat Sajjad grew up in a small village in southern Pakistan, the daughter of a labourer, she is first woman in her family to graduate from college. She voluntarily moved to work in the remote northern region of Pakistan, that has experienced decades of political instability which has significantly impacted the lives of people especially women who have borne the brunt especially because of the restrictions that has been imposed on them.
Along with a small group of friends and colleagues in the area, Sajjad, co-founded the Shining Light Community Development Organization (SLCDO), a social welfare organization that equips communities in remote, northern Pakistan through innovative education, training and development programs. In a region known for violent conflict among religious and ethnic groups, Sajjad and her team felt it was important to bring together women from diverse backgrounds to begin to learn and work together. In 2007, under Sajjad’s leadership, the Women’s Empowerment Program began with 10 women learning to sew, knit and make handicrafts at Sajjad’s home. Today, over 560 women from diverse backgrounds have graduated from the program. Many have gone on to develop small businesses or to become vocational trainers themselves. The program is now being replicated in other communities within the region. Where segregation and separation between groups used to drive fear and fuel conflict in the community, by working and learning together through the Women’s Empowerment Program, women who wouldn’t ever have connected have built friendships and networks of support and understanding.