Women Social Enterprise-CIQAM, A Transfoartive Model of Women’s Empowerment

Women Social Enterprise (WSE), now renamed as ‘CIQAM’, has a unique beginning unlike many development projects and initiatives. Initiated as a pilot activity to provide poor households access to income earning opportunities through engaging young girls in heritage development project activities of the Aga Khan Cultural Service Pakistan (AKCSP) in late 2003, WSE went through a number of evolutionary phases over the years. The first group of 6 girls inducted along with 6 young boys was trained in plan-table survey as part of mapping of historic villages in Hunza for AKCSP/Aga Khan Historic Cities Programme (AKHCP) of the Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC). The group of girls remained steadfast in fulfilling the training and project requirements whereas the boys left during the training phase for better opportunities elsewhere.

The girl trainee surveyors, despite various technical limitations and cultural constraints, performed outstandingly by mapping historic villages of Ganish and Altit by middle of 2004 and at the same time improved their understanding on collecting spatial data with simple tools. Encouraged by their interest in acquiring technical skill and motivation to work in challenging socio-cultural conditions, AKSCP took a bold step to conduct ‘Inventory of Cultural Heritage’ and ‘Documentation of Images and Damages of Haldiekish Sacred Rock’ Hunza under the leadership of Mrs. Yasmin Cheema, specialist on Heritage Inventory and Dr. Lyder Marstrander of Norwegian Directorate of Cultural Heritage (RA) by this group during 2004. The number of girl trainees was increased from 6 to 20 and trained in basic skills including tracing of images, motifs and carvings, free-hand sketching, scanning and drawing P lines on scanned images in computer. The group continued data collection on heritage from almost all major historic villages of central Hunza and Nagar during 2004 and early 2005. AKTC during this period provided financial support for this initiative and helped the group to improve its basic technical skills and earn a small income for their families.

The first outside support came in 2005 from the World Bank to develop a ‘Curriculum for Documentation of Cultural Heritage’ with a small grant of USD 30,000 which enabled AKCSP to improve training of young girls within the on-going cultural development projects. A training plan was developed to train young girls in technical documentation of heritage assets, instrumentation and digitization of technical data in order to develop a team of young girls to ‘document historic Altit Fort’ as the first step towards its multi-year restoration and re-use programme. To implement the training plan modern technology and usage of software was introduced supported by trained professionals including architects and engineers led by international conservation experts as training resources. Technical teams led by conservation expert mentored and supervised trainee groups during the documentation of Altit Fort in 2006 and subsequently during the restoration phase.

The year 2006 proved a significant mile stone for this initiative with His Highness the Aga Khan visiting Altit Fort to host His Royal Highness Prince Charles and Lady Camilla Parker Bowles in November and highly appreciated the documentation work carried out by the young girls. A team of girl surveyors was also sent to Khorog, a small mountainous city of Tajikistan during March 2007.  The first international exposure enhanced their confidence in their potential to acquire technical skills considered man’s forte till then. Upon their return the group embarked upon advance training in surveys through modern technology called ‘Total Station’ and along with that they also underwent training in AutoCAD, a computer-based architectural drafting skill.

It was during early summer 2007 when for the first time representatives from Royal Norwegian Embassy (RNE), UNESCO and Director General Archaeology Peshawar visited Altit Fort and saw young girls performing technical documentation and showed interest to support this initiative. RNE signed an agreement to support training of young girls for one year (October 2007-08). This support provided crucial resources to increase opportunities for additional young girls from marginalized families to acquire basic technical skills and earn an income to support their families and at the same time it also helped to develop ‘skill development initiative’ into a formal multi-year project. More young women were inducted into non-traditional technical skills including masonry and carpentry during 2008.

The realization of their own potential to acquire and excel in non-traditional technical skills and earning regular cash income, drove the group of young girls to  engage in a debate regarding the future of this project during this period. The debate also became more important with increasing number of visitors and dignitaries representing donor and international agencies, who visited Altit Fort during the last years of restoration which allowed girls working on site to have opportunities to interact and share their experiences. This exposure to different professions, personalities and styles of life and its implications for lives and careers of individuals in contrast to culturally defined role for young girls – a critical awareness to assess their own potential – further sharpened the debate and made question of future of this project even more urgent.

The debate and question on future of ‘women receiving training in non-traditional skills’ was thus formulated into the project strategy with an objective to ‘transform girls skills into a formal service delivery business in order enable young women to overcome socially constructed cultural restrictions and gain economic empowerment’ during 2008. The Royal Norwegian Embassy (RNE) has been at the forefront in providing not only consistent financial support – the first four-year grant was approved in October 2008 – but also as a partner-in-development engaging in all aspects of the programme to ensure its optimization. .

Currently WSE employs over 90 young women in 7 technical trades mainly from poor and marginalized families supported by more than 20 men with different skills. Source

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