Breaking stereotypes

Pakistan is one nation where running the house is primarily a man’s responsibility. And normally majority of our women are engaged in house hold chores. But what happens to these women when the men in their family are no longer able to provide for them? Should they continue to live in misery? The answer is no, because nowadays several means are available to help women to get back on their feet. The fact is that people in the third world continue to live in miserable conditions due to poverty. Keeping that in mind the World Bank, UNO and other international agencies have taken the task to eliminate poverty in third world countries by introducing the concept of micro-financing both for men and women. Ever since, things have taken a positive turn for the women of our nation. Such loans are a blessing for women especially those who belong to the middle or lower class, to start a business of their own. Women in the midst of poverty, who out of sheer helplessness lost the battles, can now win as there are institutions that provide them with the means they require to stand up on their own two feet.What is microfinance? It is described as the human face of capitalism. As the name suggests, microfinance refers to little sums of money lent out to the poor so that it can help them earn a living. This idea was popularised by the Grameen bank in Bangladesh whose pioneer Muhammed Yunus won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 for fighting poverty through microfinance. In Pakistan, microfinance was launched by Agha Khan Rural Support Programme (AKRSP) in Northern areas and Orangi Pilot Project (OPP) in Karachi in the1980s. Now there are more than 16 institutions of Microfinance in Pakistan including Khushhali Bank, Tameer Microfinance Bank Ltd, U Microfinance Bank Ltd etc.One of the Microfinance banks in Pakistan that is currently making a difference is FINCA, which has brought about a revolutionary change in the lives of many women. This microfinance bank offers loans to such women to start their lives from scratch. Mrs. Bushra Rasheed is one woman whose life took a surprising turn, when a few years ago her husband and his new wife took everything that Mrs. Rasheed owned. She was left to raise four children on her own. She had no experience with a job before, and the responsibility of raising her children alone had befallen her. Mrs. Rasheed started running a beauty salon out of her home, drawing on a talent for hair and makeup which she had possessed since she was a young girl. Her relatives and friends advised her to build a solid business out of it. Hence, Mrs. Rasheed found a good location for her salon and all that she needed was finance. This is when she decided to take a loan from Kashf Microfinance Bank Ltd (now FINCA Microfinance Bank Ltd). Agreed taking loans is considered risky, but if one starts small and thinks ahead, there are less chances of failure. Now, four years later, she not only has her own salon but has expanded it and opened a boutique with it as well. She has also created jobs for four women who work for her in the salon.According to Mrs. Rasheed, “In the early years, there were days when I would walk home crying from worry and fatigue, but fortunately with time everything turned out to be in my favour. And now I am settled in my life.” Today, she has made a mark for herself. She is the owner of a successful small business, all her children are well educated, and she has even married off her daughter. Her life has changed in a manner she did not deem possible.Another success story is of a 53-year-old entrepreneur Aalia Khatoon. She often thought of supplementing the household income by doing a job or opening up a business but was discouraged by her family members especially her husband. In 2000, her living condition deteriorated and she took financial assistance from her relatives to assist her husband who wanted to go abroad to earn a better living. As fate would have it, he did not come back, leaving Aalia alone to raise a son and to repay the debt. After working in a factory for a while she decided to start her own stitching business, using one machine day and night, to produce orders. With the passage of time she managed to sustain good customers and in order to further improve her business she needed a capital injection. She obtained a loan from FINCA, and with that money she bought better stitching machines and increased her quality of work, and life while employing five more women to help with the growing business.Aalia does not have to worry about providing education to her only son anymore; she has made her living on her own. “I remember when I did not have the money to send my son to a public school, and the idea of him not receiving education tore me apart. I vowed to never let that happen to him and now he is studying at a boarding school and I couldn’t be happier. He is doing very well and I am very proud of him,” she shares.Another brilliant example where a woman took charge of her life by turning to entrepreneurship is of Kauser. In 2003, 48-year-old Kausar Shabbir’s husband got murdered and her 9-year-old son was kidnapped in UAE – who was found later. Her other son started driving a rickshaw to support the family but due to age restriction (he was under 18) the traffic police did not allow him to drive. Determined to support her family, she decided to start her own small scale business in 2009. She applied for a loan and purchased an over-lock machine. She continued to take support from FINCA and now six years later, she has expanded her business, owns three over-lock machines, has employed two more people and has turned her life around.Sultana Shabbir is another woman who led a hard life, as her father was a drug addict and her mother had passed away when she was young. She decided to start her business from scratch and for that she needed capital to establish her business. Her efforts at obtaining money from friends and family went in vain as none of them believed she had the ability to succeed at a business on her own and repay their money on time. Eventually, she applied for a loan and after she was approved for the money, she worked consistently to make her business successful. She owns a parlour and has now opened up a general store as well. She is the sole earner of the family and is looking after her siblings – two sisters and a brother.All these women possess one thing, their courage and strength to stand alone in their troubling times – when no one supported their instinct of survival. Yet these women made it through with scratches and burns, but with a success they can now call their own. Microfinance institutions like FINCA are empowering women, giving them the needed push, the support that they require to succeed not just as entrepreneurs, but as independent women living in a man’s world! – See more at: