Despite tensions between Washington and Islamabad, Pakistan remains a major recipient of U.S. foreign aid, including efforts to boost the earning power of women. One such program is helping thousands of embroiderers market their garments and manage their businesses. A mother of seven has quadrupled her monthly income since taking part in the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Entrepreneurs Project.
An accomplished embroiderer with no formal education, Jamila struggled for years to augment her husband’s income by doing stitching and beadwork in a poor Karachi district. Thanks to USAID-funded business training, she now manages a team of embroiderers, spearheading a thriving enterprise.
“My life has been transformed. I am proof that a woman can earn and do something productive for herself and her children,” said Jamila.
She also said the instruction she received from USAID is invaluable.
“The training showed us how to run a successful business. We were taught marketing and improved our skills. We learned to take orders and the importance of on-time deliveries for growing the business,” said Jamila.
Helping female entrepreneurs like Jamila is a cornerstone of USAID’s global anti-poverty efforts.
“If you can effectively engage women in development solutions, you get better results, more sustainability, more kids in school, reduced malnutrition,” said Agency administrator Rajiv Shah.
The strategy has the backing of some American lawmakers who decide USAID funding levels.
“Empowering women is one of the most critical tools in our toolbox to fight poverty and injustice,” said Democratic Senator Ben Cardin.
At a time of runaway U.S. debt, many lawmakers want assurances that foreign aid money is wisely spent and generates real results.
“Our national debt has grown to more than $15 trillion. This scenario brings great pressure to our government’s financial obligations, and places our entire economy at some risk. In this context, the dollars available for global development will necessarily be limited,” said Republican Senator Richard Lugar.
In Pakistan, training provided by USAID helps to build a lifetime of higher incomes for women like Jamila.
"I am now earning up to 2,000 rupees [$22] a month, up from 450 rupees [$5], and 40 other women are working with me. I hope even more will come forward after seeing how my life has been changed,” said Jamila.
VOA correspondents Ayaz Gul and Maqsood Mehdi in Pakistan contributed to this report.