ISLAMABAD –Begum Salma Ahmed Shah is a renowned businesswoman and is FPCCI Vice President. She is the founder President & CEO of Woman Chamber of Commerce and Industry (WCCI) Sindh and Chairperson of BSA Inc Karachi. She is also former member national assembly and her election to the apex body of the business community of Pakistan, is a great achievement for the future role of women. Following is the details of her interview with the The Nation:
TheNation: As Vice President of FPCCI, what measures you have planned for the promotion of women in the field of trade and industry?
Begum Salma Ahmed: I intend to include women entrepreneurs in all the activities of the FPCCI and SAARC Women-related activity as well. As far as trade and industry is concerned, I feel women, due to the environmental conditions are keen to pursue “fashion design” and related activity as they have achieved a great success in this field, rather than to set up industry in which they would be faced with shortages of gas & electricity and related problems.
TN: What problems and difficulties you had to face for becoming the most successful businesswoman of the country?
BSA: The problems which I faced in achieving success in business were manifold, first of all I found it was difficult for people to accept me as businesswoman but I was committed to do this job.
TN: As compared to men, the ratio of women in the field of trade and industry is negligible. What are your suggestions to increase this ratio for women and what steps would you like to take for this purpose?
BSA: As compared to men indeed the ratio of women in the field of trade and industry is almost negligible. Among other reasons why women are shying away from industry are four major reasons
(1) An enormous amount of money required for investment.
(2) The investment climate is unstable due to the electricity & gas shortages.
(3) Access to credit is not easy.
(4) The interest rates for loans are not viable.
(5) The law and order conditions prevailing in Karachi.
Women are therefore shy of making long-term investments. As far as trade is concerned a large number of women are taking part in this activity especially in the urban areas. However, the figures are not satisfactory and new venues of investment must be tapped, in order to attract a larger ratio of women.
TN: The women are about half of the population of our country. In your view, what steps the government and the FPCCI should take to bring more women in the field of business and what would be its benefits for the economy?
BSA: The benefits to the economy would undoubtedly be very high. However specific measures must be taken to find new venues of investment, particularly in the export markets. I have already moved the FPCCI to promote a project for women from the Export Development Funds (EDF) in order to set up a small office in Dubai, where women could showcase their products & try to obtain orders from the local Dubai market and the tourists. I have also proposed the road shows in adjoining GCC countries such as Qatar and Oman and even Kuwait if possible.
TN: Do you think that any businesswoman is capable of becoming the President of PFCCI and is it possible in coming time?
BSA: I am doing my best efforts to get support from and within FPCCI and the Ministry of Commerce as well as the honorable Members of the National Assembly and Senate to raise her voice for a lady President of the FPCCI.
TN: Our society still does not look respectfully the participation of women in large scale in employment and business world. In your view how this mentality could be changed so that the majority of women could come in the mainstream and contribute more positively for the economic development of our country?
BSA: I think the society in Pakistan who do not look respectfully at the participation of women in large scale employment & the business world, should read Surah Nissa Ayat 32
It is a matter of pride to all women & men that Hazrat Bibi Khadija (RA), the first wife of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) was the first woman entrepreneur of the world. This is our heritage and it is a “Sunnat-e-Rasool” for women to earn their livelihood. As it is also Sunnat for men to work for women, as the example set by our Holy Prophet (PBUH) who sold the merchandise given to him by Hazrat Bibi Khadija (RA) with great honesty, hence, he was given the title of “Ameen”. If we forget their great lessons from our own great Islamic past, it is indeed a great shame. I think our society must be educated in the Islamic tenets & strictures that apply to women, and perhaps then, they will change their attitude and mindset. We should have programs on TV & Print Media which should highlight women achievers.
TN: There are some women in trade and industry in cities, but the situation in rural areas is very dismal. Do you think FPCCI could play any role in facilitating women of rural areas to come in business world?
BSA: It is essential that FPCCI should play a positive role for the uplift of rural women in the rural areas of Pakistan. The rural women excel in handicrafts and have skills in this field since generations. We can showcase the products, and have a different week with a projection of a theme from the rural women of each province to highlight their handicrafts and give them more projection for sale of the same, thereby cutting out the middle man. Surely FPCCI will project the products of the women from the rural areas and give them due recognition.
TN: What are your proposals for enhancing the skills development of women, particularly of rural areas so that they could become productive talent for business?
BSA: My own idea is to first ask the Presidents of the Women Chambers all over the country for their ideas for projection of rural women, to enhance their skills and mainly to get their products for positive publicity through the media.
TN: What are your suggestions for providing easy financing to enterprising women so that they could start their own business ventures?
BSA: This last question is very close to my heart. I take you back to my maiden budget speech of 1985 in which I had recommended the setting up of a Women’s Bank with low rates of interest. Late Dr. Mahboob ul Haq was the Finance Minister of that time and was making a formula to put this with practice. But the assembly was prematurely dissolved and the Finance Minister unfortunately passed away. Therefore we had to wait until the First Women Bank was set up in Late Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto’s time. However, the FWBL (First Woman Bank Ltd) is hardly the concept that was presented in Parliament, in 1985.
I think if some way could be found for a genuine “Women’s Bank with low rates of interest, it would help women tremendously. Also women sometime do not have collateral to offer. We have to get round this problem as well. I am sure if the will is there, I will be supported by Tariq Saeed one great business leader and the President & Vice Presidents of FPCCI the (Ministry of Commerce) the media, the foreign financial agencies such as USAID and other organizations, which have money to spare and devote for the rural women betterment.