Artwork: Sheikh Faisal Rasheed When you are used to living behind a veil, opening a store for your business isn’t going to happen. This is why women in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have gone online. Take for example, Abida Jillani, who is a pioneer of home-based exhibitions. She runs a home-based shop called Durshal, which means “doorstep”. She started it 15 years ago and now, with the help of the internet, has a whole new client base: women who tend to stay at home. After her husband died, Jillani said that instead of staying home and wallowing in self-pity, she decided to work and support her family. She learnt how to sew and, with Rs5,000, started a business. She now holds exhibitions across the province. “A woman is soft, like a butterfly’s wings, and fine like steel. Once she blooms everyone will realize her true potential,” she says. Some areas as perfect for investment because they are considered the domain of women: bridal clothes, embroidery, block-printing, quilts and bed linen are some products. Many women have expanded this to online pages for interior decorations, carved mirror frames, herbal oils, bags, jewelry and makeup. They even have private exhibitions for women only at their homes in Peshawar. Nabeela Farman, the manager of women entrepreneurship at SMEDA Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, says that it is all about women’s links to national and international companies and government and non-governmental organisations. “Things are changing. Pakhtun women, who were once considered ‘backward’, are now competing in the national market with new ideas and designs,” she says. “With their home-based exhibitions they want to inspire people and are definitely doing it.” Razia Bano, who started her entrepreneurial journal with a sewing machine and later set up her own boutique, says it isn’t easy but she never gave up. She is a single mother. Malaika Orakzai represents a Dubai-based company selling faux eyelashes. She says women no longer have to go through the hassle of actually visiting shops; they can now simply select the products they want on the website and pay via cash on delivery. Javed Iqbal Khattak, the head of the Small and Medium Enterprise Development Authority in KP, says that the government has taken some initiatives to provide financial support as well as training to help women run their own businesses. Karandaaz Pakistan is coordinating efforts to facilitate women who own small and medium-sized enterprises through research, innovation, providing a digital platform and financing. The State Bank of Pakistan has launched a ‘Credit Guarantee Scheme’ for women in which financial assistance can go up to Rs1.5 million. The National Incubation Centre in Peshawar is showing the women with small businesses how to set up their digital platforms and launch their startups.