The All-China Women's Federation recently organized the Silk Road on Fingertips — International Women's Handicraft Development Forum in Xi'an, northwest China's Shaanxi province, to discuss various topics and promote related projects.
The event was supported by Shaanxi people's government in partnership with Shaanxi Women's Federation and the government of the nearby city of Xianyang.
Handicrafts are important carriers for displaying women's talent and inheriting folk culture. It is also a characteristic industry in various countries which promotes women's employment and income growth.
The forum aimed to promote mutual and pragmatic cooperation among women in countries and regions along the Silk Road, enhancing the development of the women's arts and crafts industry.
Organizers aimed to fully demonstrate the brilliant achievements of women's handicrafts, and jointly discuss prospects for futher development.
As an satellite event of the 3rd Silk Road International Exposition, the gathering was the first international forum of its kind. It was themed "New Age, New Silk Road, New Women, and New Development", and attended by delegations and ministerial-level guests as well as representatives from crafts associations of 14 countries, regions and international organizatons including Nepal, the UK, France, South Africa, and the World Crafts Council.
In the field of handicrafts, women have always played an important role.
In India, over 50 percent of the craft work is done by women. For example, the Imphal Market, considered to be Asia's largest all-female market with a history of at least 500 years, is entirely managed by women in terms of its buyers, sellers, contractors and officials.
Nepal has a rich tradition of handicrafts. Nepalese women play an important role in the production, development and other aspects of local handicrafts. Since ancient times, Nepal's handmade products have enjoyed national and international acclaim for their quality and varieties.
In Oman, a study conducted by the Public Administration of the Craft Industry found that new technologies are helpful for women to actively participate in the work of craftsmanship.
The deputy mayor of Fondettes in France said at the forum that women occupy an increasingly important position in the field of French handicrafts. They are especially apt at and renowned for making various lingerie and personalized birthday cakes.
Despite the rich variety of handicrafts, skill training in France is mainly carried out through schools. People learn the basic theoretical and practical contents of the industry and the guidelines they need to master in the future, as well as how to reproduce ancient craftwork.
The head of the South African delegation of the BRICS Business Council addressed the event by saying: "These great women we have seen in China and around the world have made achievements in various fields and they proved to us through the exquisite handicrafts they have produced that the world is actually built with the wisdom of women, and the world exists at the fingertips of women."
Usha Krishna, the former president of the World Crafts Council, said: "There are also outstanding female representatives in the fields of arts and crafts in Europe and the Americas, whilst their works are still not fully recognized, compared to male craftsmen. One of the main reasons is that although women are encouraged to participate in the works, they are only regarded as the presenters of men's designs.
"It is well-recognized that women are able to improve the economy by contributing as a labor force, and it is obvious that women dominate a large proportion in handicraft industry compared to any other industry. Therefore, I think we are responsible to provide necessary support to make a major transformation of the handicrafts industry. The world market is looking for a better and more creative way to manufacture products on a large scale. Now it is time to realize that and promote the development of handicrafts."
Krishna also believes that liberalization has improved women's employment opportunities in certain industries, especially handicrafts. However, women are still facing obstacles such as large workloads, inevitable family responsibilities and occasional wage discrimination.
"The challenges we are facing today is to find a way to keep craftsmanship alive and adapt to changes in contemporary styles and trends while still retaining the essence of the original culture and passing it down to the next generations.
"We have to emphasize the role of women and provide them with appropriate support so that they can become successful entrepreneurs. Thus, in order to acclimatize to the competitive environment in the market, women should be provided with marketing and technical knowledge development plans from entrepreneurs," Krishna added.
Referring to the development plans, Krishna said they should pay special attention to areas such as raw materials, technology, marketing, and finance. In this way, technical and commercial investments will help women to smoothly carry out their work with confidence.
Krishna said, "With appropriate policies and conditions, I believe that women are able to turn the Silk Road into a beautiful and remunerative destination through their own creativity and skills."
The director of the National Relations Committee of the Uzbekistan National Committee for Ethnic Affairs of Asia, Africa and the Pacific, explained at the forum that, "In order to develop women's handicrafts industry in Uzbekistan, Uzbekistan has established a special handicrafts center for women, through which all women who practice traditional crafts have the opportunity to go into specialized schools to learn and acquire knowledge.
"This measure has greatly lifted the status of women for not only being mothers and partners, but also businessmen and entrepreneurs."
Indian award-winning craftswoman Anuradah Kuli has proved the great influence exerted by social support through her own experience. She was born in a peasant family in a remote village in Assam, northeast India, where she learned and was able to spin and weave all traditional fabrics at the age of eight.
In 1992, she purchased three looms after completing her studies and started her own textile business in her father's house in Dhemaji. After a short period of time, her products went popular among customers.
In 1998, she received a job in a department in Assam and assisted an official from Gujarat in a project sponsored by the UN Development Program in 2003.
Kuli explained that cooperation with officials has widely broadened her horizon, especially on the concept and application of modern textile design.
She also claimed her intention of setting up a group to train and cultivate small groups made of disadvantaged women from rural or urban slums to help them start a sustainable business so that they can become financially independent.
(Source: Women Voice/Translated and edited by Women of China)
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