PESHAWAR -- The first Women Chamber of Commerce in Swat District, an area in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) once oppressed by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), has been established to encourage women entrepreneurs.
The TTP dominated the area from 2007 to 2009, when the army expelled it in an offensive.
Musarrat Ahmadzeb, a member of the National Assembly from the district, founded the chamber in December to promote businesswomen not only from Swat but also from the entire Malakand Division.
"We just started late last year, and the response of the female entrepreneurs is very encouraging," Ahmadzeb told Pakistan Forward. The body already has 100 members with many more eager to join, she said.
The newly minted organisation is led by a "cabinet with one president, senior vice president, vice president, general secretary and ten board members," said Ahmadzeb.
Women in Swat are eager to put the TTP past behind them. During 2007-2009, militants in Swat destroyed hundreds of schools and oppressed women through edicts like refusing to let them work outside the home.
A local activist, Malala Yousafzai, who advocated female education and won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014, was gravely wounded by a TTP assassination attempt in Swat in October 2012.
"The women of Swat are aware and educated, and they want to contribute to society," said Ahmadzeb.
Ahmadzeb previously operated vocational schools in Swat to train local women and has been involved in rebuilding schools destroyed by militants to allow local boys and girls to resume their studies.
"Many women in Swat want to run their own businesses, and the Women Chamber will not only encourage them but will introduce them to many opportunities at the national and international level," she said.
The business community has welcomed the step and says it will bring more women into the mainstream.
"We already have women's chambers of commerce in Peshawar, Mardan, Abbottabad and Charsadda in KP," Zahid Ullah Shinwari, president of the KP Chamber of Commerce and Industries, told Pakistan Forward.
Such chambers are making all-out efforts to promote women's entrepreneurship and bring businesswomen into the mainstream, he said.
Having women's chambers of commerce in all districts of KP is a basic tool to empower women economically, said Shahida Shah Kakakhel of Nowshera, co-founder of the Khor women's rights organisation.
"The women's chambers and other such forums will ensure bringing females from the respective area into the mainstream," she told Pakistan Forward.
Any discrimination against women in this field would be a mistake and would cause great harm to Pakistan, she said.
Many other women are seeking more chambers of commerce and other opportunities to enable women in KP to operate their own businesses.
"Women have played an important role in different professions and sectors for many years, [many of whom] need to be encouraged by the government and society,” Aliya Syed, a businesswoman from Peshawar, told Pakistan Forward.
More cities of the province and the entire country need to have chambers to promote female entrepreneurs, she said.
"These bodies will not only boost [female entrepreneurs'] morale but also provide a platform to settle different issues and get exposure to national and international level," said Syed.