MAZAR-E-SHARIF -- Habiba Amini, director of the Khaawar vocational centre, is an example of how one person can lift dozens of others out of economic and moral despair.
After witnessing a rise in economic problems that women were facing in Balkh province, Amini established a tailoring training centre at the Rabia Balkhi Market in the provincial capital, Mazar-e-Sharif.
In mid-February she recruited 40 women to participate in the tailoring and clothes' manufacturing training. The training course is three months long and is free to participants.
"Ten women are recruited by the manufacturing section and 30 in the tailoring and embroidery training section," she said. "They all work every day."
Professional trainers first teach them how to sew and then train them in marketing and sales, Amini explained.
Forced to stay home because of the COVID-19 pandemic, many women lost their jobs, she said. For some, it was their families' only source of income.
Women used to work in various government agencies, international organisations and the private sector, where they were able to earn enough to provide for their families, Amini said.
"The objective of establishing this centre was to ensure the self-reliance of female teachers, students, former government employees and female heads of household who have lost their sources of income," she said.
The Khaawar centre will start distributing the products the women are creating after they finish training and will distribute the income from the sale of the handicrafts back to those women, Amini said.
Female heads of household unemployed
The women learning to make clothes say they are happy to see the establishment of the centre and that they will be able to cover part of their household expenses.
"I lost my job almost seven months ago," said Zahra Taheri, a former employee of the Balkh Department of Women's Affairs. "Since I've always liked making clothes, I came here to learn professional tailoring so I could become a home-based seamstress in the future."
"I have been learning tailoring and embroidery here for almost a month now," she said on March 16. "I will be able to sell my handiwork and make ends meet once I learn tailoring."
"I am the head of my household, and my children are young. We had a very tough time in the past seven months, and no one helped us," she added. "Now I have to learn something so I can raise my children properly."
Some men have also lost their jobs because of the recent developments in the country, forcing their wives to work.
"My husband was a government employee, but he lost his job after the fall of the previous government, leaving our family's economic situation in very bad shape," said Urmila Azizi, a former employee of a private organisation. She did not disclose further details about her previous job.
"My family members will save the money they spend on tailors every month once I am able to sew their clothes," she said. "We could use that money for our daily expenses."
"We try to at least make ends meet so that we won't have to ask anyone for assistance," she added.
'Women need to work in society'
Sediqa Qaderi, a former literature student at Balkh University, said she has lost interest in her studies and no longer wants to go to the university.
She is one of the women participating in the training at Khaawar.
"Now, I want to develop my career in tailoring and embroidery so that I will be able to learn something and sew good clothes for other women in the future," she said.
"I had the ambition to work outside the house alongside my brothers toward the development and progress of this country in the future, but things moved in the opposite direction," she said.
"Unemployed women who head their own household come under great pressure and have many problems and hardships in providing for themselves and their families," she added.
Women can play an active role in developing Afghanistan and furthering its welfare if their rights are respected, said Zahra Sediqi, a resident of Mazar-e-Sharif and a student at Khaawar.
"Women suffer greatly after losing a male head of the family," she said. "If they have children, they end up taking care of and providing for the children. They have to take on responsibilities as sole guardians."