Expanding horizons for Karachi women

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Any day with food on the table was a good day for Humera and her family of five. The daughter of a rickshaw driver in Korangi, an impoverished neighbourhood in Pakistan’s largest city Karachi, Humera, 20, had a tough childhood. Her father was the only breadwinner and struggled to support his family. “If we paid the rent, we couldn’t buy food. If we bought food, we couldn’t buy clothes. How could we expect to complete our education?” she says.

Consequently, Humera dropped out of school after Grade 8. She and her three sisters began taking in poorly paid piecework, carefully packing glass bangles for a retailer. When this stint ended, she found a home-based packing job for a pharmaceutical company. Neither paid well, but any opportunity brought financial relief for her family.

The packaging jobs did not last long, however, and Humera soon found herself without work. Luckily, a friend told her about training being provided  to young people under United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)’s Youth Employment Programme at the Government College for Women in Korangi.

The Youth Employment Project brings together vocational training institutes and Karachi garment manufacturers to train disadvantaged and vulnerable Karachi youth. It helps to build sustainable livelihoods, foster economic growth, and reduce susceptibility to violence by providing demand-driven skills to 13,000 Karachi youth by 2020, helping them to find employment in the industry.

Humera signed up for a month-long programme to train as a machine operator. Within ten days of completing the course, she landed a job at the Soorty Garment manufacturing plant in Korangi and was bringing in a monthly income of Rs 12,900 (US$ 129).

Thanks to this steady income, Humera and her family’s life has changed. “We have moved from one room for the entire family to a three-room house,” she says. She has progressed in the firm and was promoted to machine supervisor within months, with added quality control responsibilities.

Humera admits that, to begin with, she found it difficult to leave the home for work. All her earlier jobs had been home-based. “I was not interested in working. I did not have that mindset. And when I did get out, I felt lost and insecure,” she says. “I had to sometimes face harassment and at times I felt like I would lose the job because I was not doing it right.”

Success and becoming a breadwinner has made her feel like a different person. She is more confident, and feels her horizons have expanded. “Previously I only thought about the next meal,” she says. “But now I feel I can do much more with life.”

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