Friday, September 29, 2023

Handicrafts offer financial independence to rural women

HYDERABAD: Rahiba Rind, an artisan was weaving date tree leaves carefully to make a small basketry item at a display centre.

With her were spread around 50 basketry items, which she said were prepared by her along with her family members. Women have developed a variety of colours on self-help basis, which they use to beautify the product.

These organic baskets and items made with date palm leaves are used by people to store various fruits and meals. It is generally believed that these products are safer for storage.

This craft industry offers immense opportunities for rural women, who have developed various clusters of different crafts. Basketry items made with date palm leaves are made in Khairpur district, which has employed a large number of women, residing in nearby villages.

Each woman can prepare one or two items every day, which helps earn some income for their families. The price of these items at home ranges from Rs40-Rs60; however, in urban markets these items fetch a higher price.

Hailing from date producing Khairpur district, Rahiba was among a larger group of women artisans from different areas, who were displaying their handmade products at Sindh Museum Hyderabad’s exhibition centre during a two-day festival held on March 20-21, 2021.

Hundreds of rural women in the date producing area have been engaged in these traditional crafts and produce a variety of products for the market. These skilled women contribute to the local economy with their meagre income, and also help ease their family’s hardships.

This art to weave date leaves has a long history in the generations of artisans who have lived in the region.

Rahiba said previously they used to get raw material free of cost. But now they follow the changes and pay Rs400 for one maund of leaves in the season after fruiting. While off season they have to pay Rs800 for the same. They keep stocks in the season and continue for the whole year.

She said all date palm trees do not have useful leaves. “Leaves of only specific date trees are suitable for this purpose,” she added.

She was born and raised in village Shoaib Khan Rind in Khairpur district, she said her craft was inherited from her ancestors. Rahiba, who has never been to school said that girls’ activities sans school included weaving items with the elderly women. In her village, sending girls to schools is taboo.

But now, she runs training camps for the girls around her neighbourhood to teach them the art of weaving basketry items. Currently, a group of 15 women members of her family is associated with this work.

Previously, these women used to weave only three-four items with date palm leaf, including floor mats, roof mats, plate and small-sized baskets. But now they have more than 50 different items, which have demand in the rural and urban markets.

She said newcomers were able to learn this art within three-four months, depending on their interest and spare time and dedication to learning.

Talking about her journey to shift hands from traditional weaving to adopting new varieties, she said now their products have demand in urban markets, mostly for room decoration. Some innovative items that the women have introduced in a variety of colours were not available at the local markets. They usually supply such items only to the major markets for sale.

“Similar products made by wheat straw are not sustainable as once they are washed with water, they cannot be used further. Compared to that date palm leaf woven items are sustainable,” she explained.

Some hand-woven date palm leaves products are being used widely for preserving a variety of fruits, including date palm, jamon etc. Some other products are for room decoration, but are also being used in rural and urban areas for keeping meals.

Women dominate the craft industry in rural areas. Other crafts that are in vogue include needlework, patchwork, and weaving. There are hundreds of traditional production units in the province where producers and distributors live together. They run their families through their skills and entrepreneurship.

Sharifan Brohi, another artisan woman, hailing from Jamshoro district, was displaying old and new designs of hand embroidery at a shop to attract clients.

She said some customers suggest computerised designs for this work, which they do for Rs2,000-Rs3,000 each, depending on work and labour. She claimed that some political elites were also provided such bridal suits with embroidery.

Sharifan too has never been to school and learnt her craft throughout her childhood from the older women around her. This craft helped her add to her family’s income.

Men in a majority of rural areas work in agricultural fields or in the local construction industry. Women are generally considered as the ones who lead the families.

Asa Menghwar from Kadhan town, Badin district was giving final touches to a costly embroidered bridal suit. She said mostly community women work in agriculture fields and do this work in free time. Each item takes several days to finish.

She said due to emerging machinery work in local and urban markets, the market of traditional artwork had shrunk. “Only a few families have continued this ancient work to keep the tradition alive,” she said, while encouraging young girls to acquire these skills and become self-reliant financially.

There is no specific centre for women in the rural areas. Artisan families themselves have become institutions to teach their young girls these various handicrafts, which have potential to increase financial independence with a proper nudge from the government.

Source: The News

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