December 2014, Gakuch: Najma very effectively questioned the wisdom that “work in the gems sector is better left to the men,” when she decided to train as a gem cutting specialist.
She proved to have a flair for it and soon become adept at transforming the old jewelry the women of her community brought to her into more modern designs.
While this was very popular with her neighbours, she didn’t make much money. And as the sole earner in her family, Najma needed to expand. So she decided to rent a faceting machine and to start working from a corner of her sister’s shop.
A trailblazer she may have been but expansion proved difficult until she received support from the EU-funded “Jewel of Pakistan” project which was looking to develop a sustainable value chain for gems and jewelry sector in Gilgit-Baltistan and Chitral.
The project provided Najma with two modern faceting units to help her improve and refine the gem cutting, polishing and jewelry making process. The deal offered was that Ms. Najma should house the machines in a shop space that can be easily accessed both by shoppers, and by the other women trained by the project. One of the machines should always be available to one of the trained masters in return for a share in their profits.
Thus Najma became the owner of the only female-owned gem cutting enterprise in the district, 25 kilometers away from her native village of Gitch.
The daily 50 km journey is taxing but she feels the results are well worth the effort because Gakuch is a town with a small market and bank facilities where villagers come for shopping. She is working with four female master trainers who have also been trained by the project in gem cutting, polishing and jewelry-making. Additionally, the project has helped establish a customer base stretching across Pakistan.
Not only are they now working with machines that allow a more professional polishing but the raw gems are now also of higher standard. This is because the project is training the miners in “safe and artisanal mining techniques” that will reduce the damage to the gems.
Critical to Najma’s growing success has also been the project’s support to help the local industry develop markets outside the region, both nationally and internationally.
By attending a number of exhibitions, Najma has now seen her income grow to 35,000 rupees – up from just 5,000 a month, compared to before the project started.
Najma is just one of the beneficiaries. As Muhammad Akbar, a local gems miner says, “Before the project we thought these gems and stones are useless, but now they are a real source of income.”
The Jewel of Pakistan: Developing a sustainable value chain for gems and jewelry in Gilgit-Baltistan.
€ 1,943,560m (90% of the total value of the project)
June 2013 – March 2016
136,000 households in six districts of Gilgit-Baltistan
Muhammad Akbar, miner, Summayre village of Gilgit-Baltistan