“There was a blast in the kitchen and my sister got burnt,” says Sameena Faisal Khan, founder of ForiFix, a small business that offers organic fumigation and household repairs. A termite infestation had prompted her family to spray over-the-counter solutions in the kitchen which has resulted in a small fire when the stove was lit. Fortunately, the damage to the house and Ms Khan’s sister was limited. In a previous incident, fumigation for bed bugs had resulted in another of Ms Khan’s sisters being rushed to the hospital due to the inhalation of toxic fumes. Combined, these two incidents led Ms Khan to look up safer methods of fumigation and receive support and literature online from the National Pest Management Association of America.
At that time Ms Khan had been restricted to the bed for two years owing to a spinal injury. Her inquiries led her to start a small scale side business that she run while being bed-bound. Eventually, Ms Khan recovered and resumed working for a firm, only to be fired once she got pregnant. The shock of being let go soon after getting a promotion prompted Ms Khan to fully launch ForiFix in her 20s, raising funds and getting support from friends and family.
Since then, ForiFix has expanded to offering technicians for a range of services. While the business is limited to social media and word of mouth marketing, it has a team of 22 with five girls working remotely. Ms Khan runs the business around her kid’s timings, supported by her business partner who is now her husband.
“Our labour is laid-back — they don’t take calls before 12, often have pan stuffed in their mouth and smoke,” she says, explaining the multiple training she undertook to ensure that her technicians are clean and courteous to her customers. “We are six sisters and live with our mother. The mannerisms of technicians have made me sensitive to the needs of our customers which is why we do well with word-of-mouth marketing.”
Officially, one per cent of entrepreneurs are women in Pakistan but this statistic does not capture the scores of females that start small-scale businesses
ForiFix is planning to expand its range of services offered in Lahore and Islamabad while a website is in the works.
Officially, only one per cent of entrepreneurs are women in Pakistan as compared to 21pc men. While this statistic may be true, it does not capture the scores of females that start small-scale businesses while remaining below the radar but earning enough to offer a source of sustenance for their families.
Another such story is of Bushra Bibi, a dairy farmer in Multan. Shyly, 29-year-old Ms Bushra explains over the phone that she has over 15 years of experience. About a year ago, she took a loan of Rs500,000 from First Women Bank and launched a small-scale dairy farm with eight animals — enough to sustain her parents and 21-year-old sister while paying off the loan. “My father has no sons so I am his support,” she says simply.
According to a study by the think tank Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), Pakistan’s GDP could increase by $251 billion if women could participate in the economy as fully as men. However, mostly the cases of entrepreneurship and employment are born out of necessity.
Bushra bibi’s farm in Multan
One such case is of Salma Shaheen who has taken a Rs1 million loan under the Prime Minister’s Kamyab Jawan Youth Entrepreneurship Scheme to set up a beauty salon and training centre, Gorgeous, at home near Askari in Karachi.
“I was working before I was married at 20 years of age. I felt imprisoned after marriage since I was not allowed to go out, no one was allowed to visit, and my husband was constantly suspicious without providing financial support,” says Ms Shaheen explaining why she started a business. The 32-year-old currently employs four girls and single-handedly supports her 8-year-old and 10-year-old sons.
Karandaaz’s research indicates that the majority of women entrepreneurs in Pakistan operate in the informal micro, small and medium enterprise (MSMEs) space but account for only 8pc of owners of MSMEs.
The women of the family are driven to protect and nurture regardless of the scant resources available. CFR’s research indicates that on a scale of 0 to 100, women’s legal rights to self-determination are scored at 16 and financial inclusion is at 17. Arguably the lowest score is of 10 out of 100 for unpaid care work related to household chores indicating that unpaid work is most unevenly distributed between women and men.
And yet, women preserve, whether in the capacity of industry leaders or running a business from home while caring for the kids, mothers, wives, daughters continue to make ends meet regardless of the hurdles.
Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, March 7th, 2022