KUNDUZ -- Women with weaving experience have set up looms in a workshop in the Balkh provincial capital of Mazar-e-Sharif, where they are providing women with training so they can produce cloth and other items to sell.
Their efforts have created work opportunities for about 400 other women, through the establishment of a training scheme and handicrafts workshop.
Up to 60 women are receiving training on each of the centre's weaving machines, with 400 benefiting from the acquisition of new skills, said Shukria Mohammadi, who heads the Women Empowerment Centre in Mazar-e-Sharif.
The centre, which opened in March, aims to help women support their families.
"In addition to sewing, women in this vocational centre work in embroidery, bead weaving and other sectors," Mohammadi told Salaam Times.
"Many women are forced to stay home after the latest developments in the country," she said. "Through this programme, we have been able to put many women to work and help them become self-sufficient."
Most of the women have learned different trades and can make a variety of clothing and other handicrafts in their own homes, Mohammadi said.
Women in the programme first learn practical skills, "and then start their own business or work from their homes", said Samira Qaderi, a trainer at the centre.
"We train only women now," she said. "In one year, they will be working as skilled weavers."
"We will try to encourage more women in the future to reach self-sufficiency through this programme and meet their daily life needs," she added, noting that the only challenge so far has been the lack of a proper training venue.
Nargis Samimi, a trainee at the centre, said she has been weaving for the past six months, and is trying to stay abreast of new trends in the trade all the time.
"I would have graduated from Mazar-e-Sharif girls' high school this year, but since schools are closed, I had to sign up for the weaving training," she said.
"I have learned to sew every kind of clothing during this period," she said. "I will start weaving at home, and economically support my family once I graduate."
She noted the lack of modern equipment to produce handicrafts, especially weaving machines, as the most pressing issue at the centre, suggesting that more women would join the programme if this issue were addressed.
"We use very old and basic equipment, while the customers demand trendy clothes that these machines cannot produce," she said.
At present, traditional Afghan dresses (gand-e-Afghani) that are worn at parties are popular with customers.
The price of these garments is determined by the amount of work that goes into them, according to local tailors. Simple dresses can fetch between 5,000 and 10,000 AFN ($56 and $112), while more elaborate ones sell for up to 25,000 AFN ($281).
Khalida Muhseni, who has been training at the centre for six months, told Salaam Times she is happy learning tailoring, and will be able to support her family with this skill.
"I use hand sewing machines every day," she said, requesting that the government and aid agencies help the programme by providing modern and electric sewing machines.
"Tailor training and the establishment of this workshop are a good opportunity for women's self-sufficiency," she said.
Local authorities intend to build shops and establish designated safe areas where women can produce and sell handicrafts, Mazar-e-Sharif mayor Qudratullah Tariq told Salaam Times.
"Mazar-e-Sharif municipality works with women to address their problems," he said. "We are trying to provide them more facilities, in co-operation with aid agencies."
"Only women will be able to produce and sell handicrafts in the market we want to build for women," he added.
Women and girls could improve their lives and alleviate household poverty if they were permitted to work in different sectors of the economy, as they once were, Mazar-e-Sharif resident Hejratullah Asem told Salaam Times.
"Women could bring about a change if they had opportunities in different areas," he added. "Wherever women have worked, their performance has been appreciated."
"Stopping women from working outside their houses not only increases economic problems for the country, but also increases household poverty," said Asem.
"Women, like men, progressed in the last two decades and studied," he added. "They should have the opportunity to work in the public and private sectors outside their houses."