The stark landscapes of Balochistan are a backdrop for the colourful embroidery of the region. Exceedingly fine work, all done by hand, it is recognized the world over for its fine quality.
The skills are acquired from childhood onwards, but the women who do the work live in remote corners of the province. Confined to their homes, they are cut off, not just from the rest of the world but even the provincial capital of Quetta.
Deedar Mengal has taken it upon herself to reach out to these women to bring them out of the isolation that is a part of their lives- and to help them generate income from their craft. As an entrepreneur, it is her goal to connect the craftswomen of Balochistan to the market, so they may cash in on their traditional skills.
Deedar began as a social worker and her concern about the women she met and their families grew as she learnt more about them. “I asked the women to send their children to school,” she says, “and they said, how will we eat if the children don’t work?” Some women were doing embroidery work, but only at the level of the home.
Deedar began by buying work and selling it in the city. Sales picked up, and she went into partnership with Sadam Ali, a BBA student at BUITEM.
The partners brought BUITEM into the picture and the incubator gave them an office space. At BUITEM, they learnt how to manage their inventory and keep their books in order. Six months later, they set up their own office. Once they ventured into online sales, the demand for Baloch crafts soon outstripped supply. Deedar and Saddam then went out into the field, exploring remote corners of the province, and developing a network of producers.
The next step was to set up centers outside the provincial capital of Quetta, in Wadh, Khuzdar and Kalat. The craftswomen ventured out of their homes, to a nearby work space. This is not the first time, when stereotypes are broken by women but the brave one.
Setting up the centres was no easy task. Mobility is a major issue for women in Balochistan, and at first, Deedar Mengal says, they found doors closed on them. With time, they found a level of acceptance.
“Women are not even allowed to see a doctor,” says Deedar.
To stay in touch with her network, Deedar has to travel far and wide, sometimes driving up to 18 hours at a stretch to reach remote villages through the mountains.
DOCH now operates in three districts of Balochistan and has reached out to 120 women. Deedar says she would like to have a centre in every district of the province, to offer employment opportunities.
“Finances are a major challenge,” she says. “Whether it’s personal loans or institutions, people don’t trust women and doubt their ability to pay back.”
She started the business with her own savings and has built up outlying centres with community support. DOCH is now looking to tap the international market and is marketing Baloch handicrafts through social media.
Deedar Mengal became a part of Karandaaz Women Entrepreneurship Challenge (WEC) in 2017. Karandaaz promotes access to finance for small businesses, to help generate broad based employment in Pakistan.
Improving economic participation of women is addressed as a priority area for the organization and its sponsors; the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID) and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Karandaaz funding will help DOCH to implement its growth plans as money becomes available to upgrade materials and equipment. With the women like Deedar, we see our future bright and prosperous.