Design intervention and women empowerment in Pakistan

An initiative for empowering women in Pakistan through the process of design intervention, aiming to incorporate contemporary designs with traditional Sindhi embroidery motifs from the Tharparkar region.

While interning at the London International Development Centre there were various development initiatives that I found interesting, however, the one I could mostly relate to was women empowerment and initiatives to educate and enhance women’s work platforms while utilising skills they had acquired from previous generations.

The initiative was taken by the ‘Thardeep Rural Development Programme’ who approached our university, the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture, to make designs for their NGO. We worked for their Human Resource Development Programme which aims at enhancing the skills of their community in order to achieve sustainable development.  The programme trains and educates its staff through workshops, exposure trips and participatory rural appraisals.

The Project:

I travelled to a small district called Mithi, Tharparkar in a province called Sindh in Pakistan where handicrafts and livestock are key business activities.

A group of us from the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture worked with a group of women living in this rural area.  The aim of the project was to intervene contemporary designs with traditional Sindhi embroidery motifs from the Tharparkar region and incorporate these designs on to new apparel patterns for eastern as well as western outfits such as jackets and skirts and long shirts to make the product more sellable in markets.

We stayed at a guesthouse in Tharparkar and worked with the women in their mud huts, which were surprisingly cool in the otherwise dry and arid climate. Each individual had created one design and worked with one women guiding them with the colour schemes and what stitches they wanted on it. One of the major problems we faced was communication since most of us did not know Sindhi, their local language, and the people living in the rural areas didn’t know how to speak Urdu.

Another problem we faced was where, in some cases, people had incorporated the traditional motifs into drawings of buildings or other objects that were hard for the rural women to identify with since they hadn’t learnt drawing skills and had minimal  exposure to animation or stylized drawings.

This is where we as designers intervened with the women and guided them with understanding our drawings and what they represented and asked them to follow colour palettes according to our designs. The idea was to make the women work on the designs and complete them once so that they can produce more of them in the future by themselves. The task, although extremely long and tedious had great results.

This was a great initiative, since it prevents the skill from dying out as well as helps the women earn a livelihood, which in turn helps them support their families.

About Thardeep Rural Development Programme:

‘Thardeep Rural Development Programme (TRDP) is a non-profit organization, registered under the Societies Registration Act, 1860 working in the rural areas of Tharparkar, Umerkot, Dadu and Jamshoro districts of Sindh, Pakistan. The programme is aimed at facilitating the rural communities in a way that they can be empowered to secure their rights with command over resources and capabilities to manage the process of sustainable development.’-TRDP website

About the Human Resource Development Programme:

‘HRD believes in the potential and power of the people and richness of folk wisdom. It is based on humanistic values, positive beliefs about the goodness of people and their potential for growth and identification of various new livelihood options.’

HRD Goal: “Facilitate the poor, families of working children and vulnerable, especially women to build their capacities in order to harness their potential”


1) Mainstreaming Rights (Child and Gender) in each effort
2) Develop internal staff capacities and effective mechanism for quality delivery of training services
3) Enabling community-based organizations to take the work forward and replicate the models in managerial training events by developing their managerial capacities in local institutional building
4) Assist community members to acquire and enhance the vocational and technical skills to become self-reliant
5) Building capacities of duty bearers in basic primary education and healthcare