MAZAR-E-SHARIF -- Impoverished women in Balkh province, many of whom are the sole breadwinner for their households, are now receiving vocational training that will help them find work, along with other kinds of support.
With funding from international donors, the Organisation of Social Services in Poverty (OSSP) has set out to provide women with employment opportunities in various sectors, including tailoring and handicrafts.
Established in 2020 in Jawzjan province, the local nongovernmental organisation kicked off operations in Balkh in September, hiring eight female teachers and one midwife to carry out its work.
Since then, it has established 10 training centres in Balkh, OSSP director Khair Mohammad Dehzad told Salaam Times, with each centre teaching 40 women tailoring skills, along with basic health skills and Islamic education.
The training centres are situated in the city of Mazar-e-Sharif and in several other districts in Balkh province, he said.
The courses run from three to six months, Dehzad said. Upon graduation, he added, trainees will receive a sewing machine and other necessary equipment so they can start their own businesses.
"Our objective is to support impoverished women who are the sole breadwinners for their families and are facing economic hardship," he said.
"We hope they not only acquire skills and a profession but also build their knowledge and awareness about society after graduating," he added.
In addition to offering vocational training, the centres offer classes on Islamic education and basic health care, said Breshna Khairandish, who heads a training centre in Mazar-e-Sharif.
"We have provided opportunities for these women, who are the heads of their households, to become self-sufficient in the future," he said.
"We teach women how to improve their economic livelihoods and raise their awareness about various topics," he added, noting that should additional funding become available, opportunities will be offered to more women in need.
Women do not give up
Despite gender restrictions, OSSP trainees said, women do not give up but continue to work harder so they can earn enough to support their families.
One of the trainees -- Zarghoona, a 38-year-old mother of four who lives in Mazar-e-Sharif -- told Salaam Times she is the sole breadwinner for her household.
"I was a cleaner for a company, but I lost my job because of developments in the country," she said, adding that she now hopes to earn enough money to support her family after becoming a skilled tailor.
"I was jobless and at home for almost a year," she said. "I recently started coming here to learn sewing. When I acquire the skills, I will be able to economically support my family."
"It has been a month since I started attending the sewing course," vocational trainee and Mazar-e-Sharif resident Rabia Rezaie, 26, told Salaam Times.
"So far, I have learned skills such as cutting and sewing and making different types of clothes for women," Rezaie said. "I have a deep interest in the sewing profession and hope to become a competent tailor."
"I was initially using notes from the internet, but now I can learn sewing under the supervision of my instructor," she said, adding that she has made some dresses for herself already and hopes to go into business soon.
"I want to become a professional tailor and be able to earn enough for a living," she said.
Shagoufah Siddiqui, 23, is attending tailoring classes at a Mazar-e-Sharif centre.
She told Salaam Times she is determined to master the tailoring profession and support her family in the absence of her father, who has gone to Iran in search of employment.
"Now I can sew simple clothes, as well as traditional Afghan, embroidered clothes," Siddiqui said, noting that the training may enable her to make clothing for the export market in the future.
Businesswomen face enormous challenges, said Mahboba Zamani, deputy chairwoman of the Balkh Women's Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
These include a severely limited market for handicraft products and limited access to financial resources and banking.
"We are well aware of these challenges and continue to work with the relevant institutions to help businesswomen overcome or mitigate them," she said.
"We will continue to create a conducive work environment based on Islamic principles so that women can work and earn a living," she said.