This profile was prepared when Shaista Bukhari was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2008.
The New Idea
Shaista helps women in the socially conservative and male-dominated region of Southern Punjab to engage in entrepreneurial development; providing them with the skills and social capital they need to become financially independent. Based on her experiences growing up in the region and later as a small-scale businesswoman, Shaista realized that providing women with a source of economic independence was a powerful way to reduce their susceptibility to domestic violence. Highlighting the connection between financial autonomy and women’s rights, Shaista couples the trainings with legal and counseling services. Since restrictions on the mobility of women in the region is a leading barrier to engaging them in skills trainings, Shaista established an informal school to teach young women and girls. In her program, Hunarmund (skillful), students learn both basic skills and Micro Business Entrepreneurship. Her business development package assists women to identify and select a market niche, develop products, and create partnerships for the purchase of raw materials, and the sale and distribution of their finished products. When necessary, group members take on large production orders together, to demonstrate their competitiveness. She pairs her trainings with free legal services and information on women’s rights. In an effort to secure their recognition outside the home, she partners with several national and international women’s development networks—including the popular “We Can” campaign against violence against women. Such efforts have been instrumental to enhance their status in the home and provide participants with the necessary protection to expand their work. Shaista’s business trainings have not only helped inspire confidence and self-sufficiency among women, but have also effectively changed the attitudes of men in the community. She opened her trainings to male students at the local university, and through partnerships with local religious leaders, works to encourage men to support their wives and daughters.