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The Contribution Of Women In Handicrafts Cultural Studies Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Cultural Studies
Wordcount: 3411 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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The present study aimed to access the contribution of women in handicrafts. The current theme of research regarding handicrafts is to find out the type of embroidery work that women do in their homes and the problems and advantages that those women get from their embroidery work. While there is a great amount of research devoted to these topics, there is a lack of consensus on the contribution of women in handicrafts (embroidery). This study would add a significant knowledge and information to the existing one. Moreover in Pakistan scarce work is done regarding women’s contribution in handicrafts so this piece of work would also be helpful in understanding the women’s problems regarding their work.

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Handicrafts are the mirror of culture, tradition and aesthetics of the artisans who create them.  The real beauty of a piece of handicrafts surely depends on the clarity of material, the glimpses of a culture and touch of art.  Pakistan has a rich history of handicrafts. The entire wealth of timeless Pakistani handicrafts has survived through ages. The legacy of Pakistani culture promises everything- beauty, dignity, form and style. These handicrafts radiate an impression of glory, exhibit hereditary skills and show careful craftsmanship. (Shaukat, 2006)

Handicrafts are most significant in terms of economic development. Home based work has represented an important economic action for women and men for the long time period. Now in recently years this market get progress and become internationalized but men get more benefit from it and move to the many profitable areas and the adaptation of these workers into unorganized sector have made the women more insecure and lead them to the exploitation and devaluation of their skills. (Gyanendra & Dastidar, 2000)

The facts suggest that more wealthy countries have less informal economy and developing countries more expansive one. Denmark has 18 per cent, Nigeria and Thailand 80 per cent informal economy in comparison to their respective formal economies. There is nothing insulting to admit the fact that Pakistan has an informal economy of about 70 per cent. [1] 

(Bhatti, 2002)

Types of handicrafts

Handicrafts involve the creation of a wide range of objects, including clothing, religious symbols and jewelry, and different types of paper crafts. (Malcolm Tatum, 2003)

There are hundreds if not thousands of different varieties of handicrafts. The following list of crafts is included just for descriptive purposes.

1. Carpets & Textile

Pakistan has tradition of carpet-making going back thousands of years.  Weaving was a developed form of art in the Mohenjodaro in Sindh 4000-5000 year ago.  The handmade carpets produced in Lahore in the 16th Century are on display in museums in Lahore and elsewhere. Knotted woolen carpets with Islamic designs are part of the culture in both South Asia and the Middle East.  In Pakistan, Karachi and Lahore are important centers for the production of fine carpets. (Shaukat, 2006)

Textiles such as bedspreads and shawls are popular, and the Sindhi and Balochi are famous for their mirror embroidery. Appliqué, Crocheting, Embroidery, Knitting, Lace-making, Macramé, Quilting, Weaving are also include in textile handicrafts. (Ruskin & Morris)

2. Brass, Onyx & Wood Crafts

The Handicrafts manifested through Brass, onyx and wood, are known to maintain a proud tradition of handicrafts since 1994 in Pakistan and truly signifying the worth of the products. The art of carving on Metal & Wood items are the real beauties of our hard working Craftsmen. These items are manufactured in small villages by diligent craftsman, and can easily be purchased in big cities. Such crafts include, metal lanterns, mirror frames, decoration pieces and more.   (Shaukat, 2006)

3. Pottery  

The potter at his wheel is a common scene in every village, uninfluenced by modern glamour. Bahawalpur, Rawalpindi, Gujrat and places around also produce colorful pottery, painted after firing. The blue glazed pottery of Multan dates back to the 13th century with obvious traces for woodwork. Chiniot is also known for brass and iron inlay. Copper and brass work is done within the walled city of Lahore.

Ceramics and glazed pottery are among the oldest art forms in Pakistan, dating back to the Indus Valley Civilization (2500 B.C.E.). The most popular techniques used include engraving intricate designs into the undercoating of the pottery and then glazing it with colored transparent glazes. Another popular technique is to apply blue designs over white glazes.  Pakistani potters are responsible for making the elaborate tiles that decorate mosques and public buildings. (Shaukat, 2006)

4. Woodcrafts

Wood-carving, Wood-turning, Cabinet making, Furniture making, lacquerware include in woodcrafts. Pakistani furniture is known all over the world for its beautiful and intricate designs and the mastery of its craftsman. One of the fine longitudinal cross grains solid wood is known as Rosewood. It is available in the form of dense jungles in northern areas of Pakistan. In Asia this wood is only available in Pakistan. In local language people calls it ”SHESHAM”. It is also available along the lakes and rivers in Punjab province of Pakistan. Such furniture is famous all over the world for its distinctiveness and beauty. (Shaukat, 2006)

5. Jewelry & Leather goods

Metalwork, including inlaid or engraved swords, boxes, dishes, and tea sets made from silver and gold, as well as jewelry with precious stones and pearls, are important crafts. Jewelry is not limited to necklaces, bracelets, rings but also includes hair and forehead decorations and nose ornaments. Leatherwork and basketry are also important crafts. Sindh baskets are colorful and intricate, while weavers in the Northwest Frontier prefer geometric patterns. (Shaukat, 2006)


Embroidery is the art or handicraft of decorating cloth or other materials with needle and thread or wool. Embroidery may also incorporate other materials such as metal strips, pearls, beads, quills, and sequins. Embroidery is an ancient textile art which uses strands of embroidery floss or wool to create a picture in thread on canvas, linen or other cloth. It forms a part of needlework. Embroidery uses various stitches and combinations of stitches. Each embroidery stitch has a special name to help identify it.

Embroidery has recognized as a creative expression of people and it is storage of our oral traditions which have been maintained by the women. (Dhamija, 2004)

Embroidered textiles are frequently used to decorate living spaces, temporary or permanent, impressive or modest. Colourful embroidered textiles, often displayed in combination with painted or stucco decoration, bring beauty and colour into mud-walled homes.

Historically, embroidered textiles reflected the wealth and influence of rulers, courtiers, and favoured courtesans. Among South Asia’s many peoples, these textiles frequently identified family origins, personal status or religious affiliation. (Dale Carolyn Gluckman, 2007)

The folk embroidery tradition runs deep in the Punjab. At the end of the 15th century, the founder of the Sikh religion, Guru Nanak, wrote: “Thou art not a worthwhile woman until thou hast embroidered thy own blouse”. Village women still practice the craft, also stitching bed and cushion covers and a variety of other cloths, but the art probably reached its peak in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. (Beste, Michael, 2009)

Types of embroidery

There are many different styles of embroidery, often with regional variations.

Chikan embroidery

Chikan embroidery is a fine needle-craft done by hand mostly using white thread on a variety of fabrics from cotton and silk to synthetics. It is the most famous fine art of embroidery at Lucknow, and is famous not only in India, but also abroad. (Sarna & Shukla, 1994)

Zari embroideries

From the second half of 18th century until the early 20th century, two different types of gold embroidery found ready patrons; these were: zardozi work, heavy silver-gilt thread work upon a foundation padded with cotton thread or paper, on velvet or sation ground; and Kalabattu work: light delicate embroidery, in gilt-silver or silver threads, strips of gilt-silver, gilt-silver sequins, upon fine silk cotton or muslin. (Dhamija, 2004)

White work

White work is embroidered in white thread, on pure white fabric, it is not at all difficult, and is cheap to achieve. The tools you will need for white work embroidery are minimal. Firstly, a nice piece of fabric. Depending on the kind of item you wish to produce, you may start out with high thread count white muslin, or an even weave or linen.

Appliqué work

Appliqué work is every kind of embroidery which, being worked solidly on one material is then cut out and lay down upon another, and secured by various ornamental stitches. (Dhamija, 2004)

China work

This work was almost entirely Chinese in design and techniques. It was done on saries, shawls, borders, children dresses and a variety of costumes. The fabric used was mainly chines silk or fine satin of red, purple and black colour. The embroidery was done sometimes with floss-silk and more often with tightly spun, two ply silk. (Dhamija, 2004)


The simple and sparsely embroided work for everyday use was called phulkari. It was done on odhnis or shawls for everyday use on coarse handspun khadi cloth, mostly brownish-red, usng floss-silk in darning stitched worked from the reverse side of fabric. (Dhamija, 2004)

Kashmir embroidery

The main varieties of Kashmir being namda, work on felt-wool, gabba, a type of appliqué work, using waste woolen fabrics and kashida wrought on various kinds of clothing and the cloth used is either silk or wool. (Dhamija, 2004)

Role of women in handicrafts

Home based workers are the most marginalized and one of the largest groups of workers in this sector, with an estimated 300 million workers worldwide [2] . Home based work has been identified as work that is undertaken in the home by either independent own account workers or dependent subcontractors. [3] They are predominately women, located in various occupations including the assembly of electronic components of fans, washing machines, irons, or the manufacture of glass bangles, items of pottery; small scale packaging and assembling of consumables, hand knitting, embroidery, stitching, handicrafts, garments and weaving of carpets and shawls. It also includes clerical and teaching homework and the supply of raw materials. (Carr, Chen & Tate, 2000)

According to World Bank report after agriculture, the most important source of women’s employment is home-based work.’ [4] (Aurat publication, 1997)

The statistics on the informal economy are unreliable, ‘The number of women in the informal labour force possibly stands at 12.79 millions, of whom 8.52 million women, constituting 75 per cent of the total informal sector workers, were home-based workers.’ [5] (Aurat publication, 1997)

A survey of the Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE) conducted in 2003 shows that 77 percent of the total female labor force falls within the purview of the informal sector, while 53 percent are classified as home based workers. The survey further revealed that in the rural sector, where 79 percent of the female population above the age of ten is actively involved in farming, only 37 percent are gainfully employed in their own family farms while the rest fall within the category of unpaid workers. Most working women have to hand over their earnings to their parents or husbands.

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During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries women produced and consumed the crafts for the domestic interior. They made crafts at various levels in society and having different motives. At one level, it may have been artistic self-expression; at another level a product of a commitment to household duty or financial necessity, or on a third level it may have been for entertainment or pastime. (Edward, 2006)

Informal Economy comprises of ‘small enterprises of one or more persons, with casual or regular employees of less than 10 people.’ [6] The workers in this sector fall into the following three categories [7] :

Self-employed women

Home-based workers

Self-employed women

A woman who is self-employed works for herself instead of as an employee of another person or organization, drawing income from a trade or business. Self-employed workers are paid directly by clients or by their business, and some proportion of these payments will be due to the government as income tax. (Haq, 2003)

Home-based workers

Home based women workers fall into two categories: (i) dependent workers who work on a piece rate and usually produce for a subcontractor or middle persons in a contract chain; and (ii) independent home based workers or own-account workers who produce goods for direct sale through street stalls, shops or the local village and sometimes to traders or subcontractors. (Haq, 2003)

In the last ten years women have become more energetic in business and the private sector. Their participation found in many areas, in which small scale projects as well as large scale private projects are included. Small scale rural projects deals with farming and gardening, production of handicrafts, running trade and food stores that transformed into large scale private projects. There are numerous networks which have been established for the women in business. It also empowers the women of a home-base producer or in private sector. (Brouwer, Harris & Tanaka, 1998)

The unplanned home-based workers represent an important part of working population. There are large number of income producing activities are included in home-based sector in which mostly women workers are engaged. Beedi making, textile, garment making, food processing, craft, coir work, dairy and chikan embroidery are included in these activities. Both in rural and urban areas, there is given very little importance to this unorganized sector and the signs of this sector are; the working conditions are unspeakable, the wages are extremely low and workers face great worries and exploitations. Home based industrial work is one of the least regulated, least managed, and most risky, systems of industrial production however a large number of women workers are tired in this sector just because of lack of personal resources, like education and awareness, non-availability of employment opportunities, and normative practices which control women’s mobility outside home. (Sarna & Shukla, 1994)

Liberalisation has improved the employment opportunities for women in some sectors especially in the crafts sector. So there are increased the number of women in participation of home-base craft sector like in embroidery, lace making, weaving and printed textiles. In some cases empowerment of women also increases but in most cases, the working condition of the women workers is poor and they are paid less than men. (Krishnaraj, 1992 cited by Rao, 2005)

Women have a great work load in their lives; they have a double burden, to earn income from their work and also have to fulfill their domestic responsibilities. They laboring the whole day; generally they work 12 to 16 hours per day and losing their time and energy both. (Durand, 1975 cited by United Nations Economic and social commission for Asia and the pacific, 1987)

Being a embroidery skilled worker, their work requires women to sit long hours in the same position that resulting in eye, back bone, shoulders as well as other mental and emotional problems depending upon the physical environment in which these women live and work. (Sarna &Shukla, 1994)

Wage discrimination is obvious and usually common against women in Asia. Wage rates are as low as one-third or it may be observed that women always paid less of those paid to men. In Jobs also, there are described carefully to discriminate the labour practices involved; female positions typically require few skills and give poor salary. (United Nations Economic and social commission for Asia and the pacific, 1987)

In handicrafts the embroidery work is a traditional art but many women faced some difficulty of marketing their skill. Generally simple embroidery piece do not have sale value except it is the part of some readymade garments, complete form and other gift items. Then these workers must rely on the other persons to sale out for their exclusive crafts. Generally these persons are shop keepers, designers and exporters. Women of home-base producers also face difficulty in this context because they are unadvertised and commonly people don’t know them so they have only those customers to know them personally. (Gyanendra & Dastidar, 2000)

Mostly the women’s work is disgustingly under-reported in Pakistan. Purdah is the main reason that stops any direct communication between the enumerator and the female respondent. The household head, usually a male, reports any female activity. Because purdah is a status representation, related with material well-being, and women’s work is frowned upon, it is expected that female labour is under-reported. (Whyte, 1982 cited by United Nations Economic and social commission for Asia and the pacific, 1987)

In some traditional industries like jute and cotton textile, mechanization has contributed in the rejection of female employment. Women represent 90 percent of the workers in these industries such as the making of embroidery. But intermediaries and middlemen who provide the raw materials and market the final product, make them badly exploited by only paying the women minimal wages. (Bhatty n.d.; Indian Council of Social Science Research, 1975 cited by United Nations Economic and social commission for Asia and the pacific, 1987)

Crafts production is culturally recognized activity. The skills present in the economic sector and many women adopt and practice it. But they don’t get to recognition and value not in the economy and not in the household level. They don’t have any financial records, on average it accounts for less than 1% of a household’s income. This is not much to lead toward progress. There are too much women who participate in home-craft production but they just have little impact on it. There is also no visibility of proper place or infrastructure for marketing home-produced crafts. (Freedman & Wai, 1988)

NGOs should help the home based women workers to shape cooperatives. These cooperatives should supply raw materials, make sure appropriate and timely payments, arrange for the credit and support in design development. (Ministry of Labour, 2000).

There is an immediate need to arrange female workers into cooperatives and other organizations where production and marketing are included. Government institutions or voluntary welfare organizations must come forward to reduce such exploitation of women. (United Nations Economic and social commission for Asia and the pacific, 1987)


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