Women's Rights

Free sewing courses help Afghan women in Kabul support their families

By Najibullah

Najma Husaini, 18, a Kabul resident and one of the students at Dur Khanum workshop, holds up women's dresses on July 1 that students have sewn during tehir training period. [Najibullah/Salaam Times]

Najma Husaini, 18, a Kabul resident and one of the students at Dur Khanum workshop, holds up women's dresses on July 1 that students have sewn during tehir training period. [Najibullah/Salaam Times]

KABUL -- Dur Khanum, a tailoring workshop, is offering girls and women in Kabul the opportunity to attend sewing training courses for free.

Samira Sadaat, 36, who founded the workshop, headed a cleaning company in Kabul a year ago.

Most of her staff were uneducated and poor women who were the breadwinners of their families.

Demand disappeared after Afghanistan's wealthy fled the country in August, leaving Sadaat's employees with unprecedented economic challenges, she said.

"I established a tailoring workshop -- Dur Khanum -- [in September] to support poor women who also headed their families," she said.

Donations from her friends and from Afghans abroad fund the programme.

"There were 20 women in the beginning, who started learning to tailor. We also hired an instructor. The first batch graduated after attending a two-month course," Sadaat said.

Some 23 women are taking part in the second batch, she added.

The establishment of the workshop by Sadaat comes at a critical time as most investors have either suspended or limited their operations in Afghanistan.

Fatima Muhammadi, a 45-year-old mother of four and the breadwinner of her household, is one of the women attending the training course.

"I am illiterate and cannot take on any other work. I used to do cleaning with the cleaning company. Before that, I was a baker," she said.

Muhammadi said she hopes she will be able to earn enough to support her family after acquiring the tailoring skills.

"I have learned a lot since I started the training," she said.

Vocational training

Other participants who have been denied access to schools are hoping to find a source of income by learning sewing.

Although girls may attend school up to sixth grade, secondary schools for girls were ordered to shut in March, just hours after being reopened for the first time since August.

Habiba, 19, a resident of Kabul and a 12th grader who goes by her first name, has unable to go to school since last year.

"I have been learning sewing for the past five months," she said. "So far, I have learned skills such as cutting and sewing different clothes."

The first batch of students studied for two months, but Sadaat, the workshop founder, later increased the training period to six months.

Habiba had hoped to become a journalist after she completed her studies. Despite the ban on girls' education, she is still hopeful that schools will open soon.

"We hope that schools will open soon, so that we are able to continue our studies. Otherwise, I have to become a tailor," she said.

Najma Husaini, 18, a Kabul resident and one of the students at the workshop, said she has learned to make different kinds of dresses for women.

"I used to learn by taking notes in the beginning. However, I can now sew with guidance from my instructor," she said.

Najma said that she has made several articles of clothing for herself so far and hopes to be able to sew clothes independently shortly.

"Now that I cannot go to school, I want to become a professional tailor so that I can support my family. There are six people in my family, and I am the oldest," said Najma, an 11th grader.

Another trainee at the workshop, Zahra, 18, who gave only her first name, said before attending the Dur Khanum workshop, she was going to school and was in 11th grade.

She said she decided to learn tailoring with the hope of helping her father -- who is in Iran to find work -- support their family.

"I can now sew simple clothes as well as Afghan traditional embroidered clothes," she said, referring to the new skills she has learned.

"If schools do not start, I want to continue learning the tailoring profession so that I can make traditional Afghan clothes for export," Zahra added.

Work challenges

The right to work and the right to education have been taken away from women and girls, said Sadaat, the workshop founder.

"Despite many constraints and challenges, the Dur Khanum workshop has been able to solve a small part of the problems of a small group in Afghanistan. However, if we get further financial support, we could expand the programme," she said.

The workshop previously served lunch for trainees in the beginning, which allowed them to work longer. However, the training now adjourns at about noon because of budgetary constraints, said Sadaat.

Female entrepreneurs are confronting many challenges, said Afsana Rahimi, chairperson of the Afghanistan Women Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Such challenges include, among others, the closure of export routes, the abandonment of woman-run markets, limited access to financial resources and to domestic markets, and problems with banking and money transfers, according to Rahimi.

"Gradually and step by step and in co-ordination with relevant and reputable institutions [including the Ministry of Commerce], we are exploring suitable solutions to address the challenges facing female entrepreneurs and to get women back to their previous state," she said.

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It is very good.


Where is your course?


Although I think this is a good initiative, looking at the problems and economic challenges of Afghan women, this never is enough. I wish women were given extensive roles at the government institutions.


Although this program is a good initiative, it is never sufficient considering Afghan women's issues and economic problems. Aid organizations should speed up their efforts and expand their scope of work to bring many women under its service cover in many areas. It is also necessary for these organizations to involve women in the field of marketing or market research because when there is no market, the tools used by women will lose them, and these organizations will, Instead of helping, cause them more damage.


Just a year ago, Afghan women were ministers in the cabinet. They were working on major positions in government. They were maintaining a goal and vision to make changes in the society. They were dreaming of becoming the president. They were full of dreams and hopes. And now? Afghan women are struggling to find a piece of bread to feed their children. They knock on every single door to find something to feed their children. I have seen many dignified women begging on the streets. Women who are now begging on the streets and selling cheap products on the street all day were yesterday university professors, and heads of a department had character, honor, dignity, and were respected in the society. Some of them also work on such projects executed by international organizations. Afghan women have gone backward and their work and living environment are narrowing each day. May God bring this night to a bright morning soon. Thanks. Shireen Alizai


Why do international organizations only focus on the improvement and expansion of sewing throughout Afghanistan? How people would pay to buy clothes when they don’t have enough to eat? I know many tailors who didn’t have customers even on Eid days, why? Because peoples' economic situation is not good enough to buy new clothes. So the aid agencies should promote other rather than such programs. They must leave sewing, carpentry, and embroidery for another time, they should spend this money to make other small enterprises for people who are in need. The fact is that these organizations only tend to fool their donors and get money from them. No one is loyal and honest to poor Afghanistan.


This is a good program for the poor women who are engaged in work and earn Halal income. But I wish women would be given a role in government institutions at the upper level. Because small businesses like Durkhanam are temporary, and when many wealthy people leave a country, whom will the girls/women graduating from such workshops/courses work for? It is at a time when the rest of the society is also poor people. It is important to have such workshops and provide employment opportunities for women in the government framework. Some of the women receive government salaries, so they will inevitably sew their clothes, and they will refer to such women. For the chain of life to continue, it is good that people (men and women) get engaged in various activities.