Stories: Carving out a Better Life
Several wooden spoons and forks are perched on a table as Fatima puts the finishing touches on another one. Around her, other carpenters are carving signs, measuring material, and smoothing out large pieces of wood for new projects. Working in a comfortable rhythm, they all appear at ease in the workshop.
In many ways, this carpentry workshop nestled in the Hunza valley in Gilgit Baltistan, Pakistan is like many others around the world. There is one notable exception: all the carpenters here are women.
The Women Social Enterprise currently employs over 90 young women in seven technical trades, including carpentry, masonry, and architectural services. Most have come from poor and marginalized communities, and through the initiative have been able to earn an income and support their themselves and their families while acquiring technical skills.
Despite steady gains in education – often outpacing other parts of the country – young women and men in the strategically important, but isolated high mountain regions of Gilgit-Baltistan and Chitral in northern Pakistan face multiple barriers to entering the labour market and participating in civic activities. In particular, social and gender norms exclude many women from social and economic pursuits.
Investing in youth is a key factor in breaking the cycle of poverty, because youth who are trained and well educated are more employable and therefore better able to contribute to overall economic and social development.
With Canadian support, an innovative program is increasing engagement of young women and men as productive, full members of their communities. It has reached over 240,000 young women and men and brought significant gains in employment, income, and inclusion in community organizations and local decision-making processes.
For young women, the program has also built confidence and expanded economic opportunities – whether as professionals in banks or schools or entrepreneurs in non-traditional trades like carpentry and electrical repair. Thousands of young women have successfully launched businesses and taken on leadership roles in their communities