The Value of Culture in Conflict - Investigating the Sustainable Livelihood Generation for Craftswomen in Azad Kashmir (Pakistan)

Lead Research Organisation: Middlesex University
Department Name: Faculty of Arts & Creative Industries


Over July 2015, the Laajverd Summer School based in Upper Neelum valley, a workshop was conducted by the Principal Investigator along with the named research assistant that allowed participants from the local villages to understand basic concepts of design and apply skills in developing a handmade and design range that was understood to be relevant to a globalized craft market. The workshop provided skills and knowledge about design through conversations and visual communication, allowing participants to engage with the creative process and understand what it means to make things. Here designing with the craftsperson was seen as key to understanding action research as opposed to designing for the craftsperson. The workshop was successful and a growing need for training within craft was identified by participants from the villages in Neelum Valley. This conflict-ridden area, which is inside the Indian border, but now belongs to Pakistan sees intensive periods of fluctuating conflict.

The women of this region work within the crafts sector and produce an intermittent collection of goods that don't always provide them with sustainable livelihood. This project aims to provide these women with training within crafts, to enhance their ability to generate incomes. Working with a regional partner, with a track record of working within crafts, allows this project to build upon existing knowledge and skills. The project builds upon previous experience of training within crafts in the Srinagar Valley, in India for doctoral research conducted by the PI. Here craftswomen were trained in design and logistics of trade to enhance their income generation abilities. This project therefore has larger ambitions of conducting a cross border comparative case study of India and Pakistan, and the Kashmiri women who are rebuilding their lives through creative, culturally relevant, production of goods.

The Value of Culture in Conflict seeks to establish a framework that will advance the way in which we talk about the value of culturally valued creative activities within regions of intense conflict. This project specifically looks at the Neelum Valley region of Azad Kashmir (Pakistan). The first part of the framework will be an examination of the cultural experience of craft production in itself and its impact on individuals and its benefit to the society and local economy.

The second part of the framework will develop interconnected networks in the region with the partner organisation that has worked in promoting cultural production with craftswomen's groups and develop training for them that would filter out to their partner members who are the main beneficiaries of the project. This project relies on local knowledge, tacit understandings and the will to develop programs that enhance income generation capacities of the women who face the lived realities of the ongoing conflict.

The project will take as its starting point the different forms of cultural experience, such as, for instance, the aesthetic and cognitive dimensions of our cultural encounters. This might be seen as analysing the phenomenology of cultural experiences in order to understand better the benefits uniquely associated with cultural activity. This significant approach will be conducted alongside exploration of the many other economic and social benefits conventionally associated with cultural activity.

This work would be potentially of use to those organizations that work within development at the grass roots level. It would also be of use to women's self help groups, and NGOs who promote craft working for income purposes. This work would also be useful to political scientists who study the shifting understandings of conflict and post conflict. However, in the main, it is useful to crafts women, who seek to enhance their knowledge and skills in order to boost their income generation abilities.

Planned Impact

The strategy is designed to integrate and foreground Impacts arising from the research project through interactions with the partners of the project. The dissemination strategy and research evaluation will seek to ensure maximum impact, take up, and raise awareness of design innovation and economic impact potential through this research based intervention. In particular the project will be managed to engage users and beneficiaries and increase the likelihood of impacts by using a participatory, co-design approach to training.
Local communities of crafts women, teams from partner NGO - SABAH, academics from National College of Arts, Lahore will be consulted, trained, interviewed and form the ongoing collaboration from the start of the project. The core subject of this project is Kashmiri craftswomen, who are at the centre of this project. They form the participant base, the stakeholders in success, and beneficiaries of the activities proposed. The project engages with them from the start, planning the training for the creation of craft made products. The end of this project will see a complete set of training documents, which would be useful to the project but also to wider audiences outside of Pakistan, in conflict areas which have craft producer groups. This work raises the profile of the partner NGO creating a body of work for them that they could take to other businesses as representative of their abilities and potential.
Wider impact to communities: According to the ILO report 'Searching for the Invisible Workers' (Akhtar,2011) nearly 85% (2008-09) of HBW (Home based workers) are classified in the general category of 'Other craft and related trades' and the second highest (7.6%) of the HBWs are 'Precision, handicraft, printing and other related trade workers'. Nearly 92 percent (2008-09) of female HBWs are classified as 'Other Craft and related trades' as compared to 56 percent male HBWs. This indicates the size of the wider local community of makers who could benefit from such training and networks in the future. The community of makers is well connected and training one section of this will bring benefits for the larger group.
Bringing trade and business opportunities to a post conflict area has been seen as a pathway to peace and reconstruction (Date-Bah, 2003). Brun's (2005) work in Sri Lanka indicated that women in conflict zones in Sri Lanka bear the brunt of the conflict and often act as the head of the household due to death and disappearances of men, while Thiruchandran (2001) mentions that women in Eastern Sri Lanka are de-facto heads of households in a post conflict scenario. Conflicts result in an increase in the number of female-headed households. This is further indicative of the wider impact to the communities in Kashmir but also further in areas of conflict outside of South Asia. This is also indicative of the academic impact of this work in area and discipline study.
Third sector: This project highlights the significance of design and crafts to the development of income for disenfranchised women. Hence it has transferability inherent within its design. This transferability is of value to organizations in the third sector who work within poverty alleviation, women's development, gender support networks, craft groups, micro enterprise development, self-help group organizations. The project is therefore of relevance to those within the development sector who engage with grass roots activities and also those who develop and think about policy that aids development, including international donor and aid bodies that engage with such practices. Publication of this work should potentially provide a rationale/platform for groups and organizations to rethink investment for training and networking within the crafts sector to enhance productivity, generate sustainable incomes, whilst promoting traditional skills and processes


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Description This grant helped us develop a closer understanding about the value of culture to women who live in conflict spaces. The research allowed us to gather and analyse the role of culture and material practices in the lives of women who live in fragile space of Azad Kashmir and witness a protracted conflict and ongoing violence. We discovered the everyday experiences of inequality and exclusion that these face and worked with them develop strategies that help them in realising their ambitions for generating higher incomes for their families and themselves. These women have high level of tacit knowledge and are creative, using craft skills to make products that they sell through the partner NGO for this project. We provided training for crafts working for these women, allowing them to enhance their livelihood capacities from the comfort of their homes. Migrating for economic reasons and being displaced due to the conflict remain real threats for these women. This research helped us build capacity for income generation and reliance to the fragility that surrounds them.
Exploitation Route The research outcomes comprise of a training workshop manual which was used successfully by craftswomen from Azad Kashmir. This training consists of workshops that address design, new product design, innovation in marketing and market development. This manual could be developed into an openly accessible and translatable document which could be accessed through CSO/NGO networks in other Fragile contexts. This project hopes to transfer its learning to other conflict based craft making communities of women who have ambitions of growing their income sustainably. The craftswomen produced beautifully made designs which were showcased in an exhibition in Pakistan. The value of this work was understood and appreciated by local politicians, who encouraged the project to continue its work in the region of Baluchistan, which is also a fragile space due to conflict and violence.
Sectors Creative Economy,Education,Government, Democracy and Justice,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

Description The research conducted drew public attention from academia and from within government departments. We organised a small exhibition which was hosted by the National College of Arts as they were interested in the project. This exhibition was a showcase of the products and prototypes the craftswomen had designed. The Federal Minster for Education inaugurated this exhibition and spoke to me about the relevance of education and training for women from conflict areas. Further meetings to discuss this and other areas of conflict that the Minister wanted the researchers to look at were arranged and completed.The PI was also contacted by local NGOs that work on issues of empowerment and preventing and countering violent extremism in Pakistan. This was outside the remit of the current grant, but meetings were set up to explore the possibility of proving design and business skills training to women in communities that face extremism, yet have little agency to contribute meaningfully to peace building. This has led us to writing new scoping calls and projects for further work.
First Year Of Impact 2017
Sector Communities and Social Services/Policy,Creative Economy,Education,Security and Diplomacy
Impact Types Cultural,Societal,Economic,Policy & public services

Description Nahrein Network Plus
Amount £30,000 (GBP)
Funding ID AHRC ref AH/R005370/1 
Organisation University College London 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 07/2018 
End 03/2019
Description Exhibition of works, National College of Art, Rawalpindi, Pakistan. 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact An exhibition of the work made by the crafts women as a result of the design training workshops was displayed in an exhibition by a local Educational Institution. They provided us space, equipment for installation as well a guest/audience list. They also invited the Minster for Education and Employment to the event to highlight the value of the work that this project completed in Pakistan.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
Description Interview for AHRC pages as a case study 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact I was interviewed by the AHRC to be featured as case study for work that focuses on women's empowerment for International Women's Day 2018.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017