What are the issues that business women in Pakistan face when they set up a company? Gosh! Are there female entrepreneurs in Pakistan? Yes there are, and guess what – they are surprisingly similar to you and me.
A delegation of women entrepreneurs visited the Women’s Business Initiative International (WBII) last Friday morning. The visit was an initiative of the Pakistani Export Promotion Bureau and assisted by the Embassy here in The Hague. Suzy Ogé, Founder/Director of the WBI, grabbed the opportunity to host the event to promote contact between women from different countries with similar goals.
It was refreshing to speak to this group of women, not of international geo-politically relevant topics, but of the daily issues of aspirations, commitments, markets and trends.
The women as individuals were diverse; from a young woman in jeans and sneakers to older women in traditional dresses and long flowing scarves, from the members of the middle-class to a member of the established political elite. One is a freelance designer of up-market, unique pieces of jewellery out of 22 karat gold. Another has a family business which produces clothing from hand stitched cotton and silk that is tinted with natural dies, an ancient technique passed down from her mother who started the business 30 years ago. And yet another supports women from poor and rural areas making garments from their homes. Her company was set-up as a non-government organisation (NGO).
In good English, the delegates described how the government of Pakistan is increasingly supportive of the entrepreneurial potential of women in the country.
‘Even our husbands, fathers and brothers now realise how important it is for the country that we participate and have control over our destinies.’
Many recent support projects, including micro-credit schemes targeting women-run businesses, are improving the climate for business women in Pakistan.
It was interesting to hear how they feel the pressures of being fully responsible for the family and children, even while they run their businesses. ‘Our men won’t take over the household things, even if they work less.’ Several European heads nodded in acknowledgement of the situation which seemed familiar for many women here as well.
The purpose of their two-day visit to the Netherlands was part of a three-country trip, including the UK and Spain, to stimulate contact with the European market. The Ambassador of Pakistan, who came for a short visit after lunch, stressed to the ladies the importance of getting to know their market. To us, the European women in the room, he impressed the value of the contribution these women make to the local and national economy. In any case, their dedication and entrepreneurial energy were evident.
Politics did enter the proceedings of the day, however. Charlene Lambert, Vice President of the West-Holland Foreign Investment Agency (WFIA) introduced her organisation whose main aim is to stimulate foreign companies to establish themselves in Holland.
‘Excuse me, said the Commercial Secretary of the Pakistan Embassy, Mr Aamir Khan. ‘Of the 16 women entrepreneurs who are part of this delegation, only 5 could get a visa to The Netherlands.’
Through the tough immigration policies of the last few years, the Netherlands is loosing its reputation as an open trading nation. The blanket policy has made getting into the Netherlands more difficult, even for groups like these women entrepreneurs who pose no threat to our national interests. Perhaps we should review our stereotypes on which government provides more support to women entrepreneurs.
Reprinted with permission