BAGHLAN -- In the Baghlan provincial capital of Pul-e-Khumri, some young women have turned to carpet weaving amid the national ban on their education.
More than 500 families in the province are currently engaged in carpet weaving via home-based enterprises, said Baghlan Carpet Weavers Association chairman Mohammad Arif Ghulami.
The association helps them market the rugs they produce.
Many of the weavers are school or university students who have been making rugs "to escape mental pressure, stay busy and learn a vocation", Ghulami told Salaam Times.
Since the closure of girls' schools in August 2021, some regard this as a means of progress, "and they use this opportunity very well", he said.
"We have 500 carpet weaving and 150 gelem [a type of rug] weaving families in Baghlan," he said, explaining that the association brings raw materials from Kabul and helps to facilitate the sale of the finished products.
The lack of a suitable market and access to raw materials are the main challenges that carpet weavers face, Ghulami said.
"I have been weaving carpets for a month now," said Pul-e-Khumri resident Suraya, 27. "I knew how to weave carpets before and started to do it again."
"The carpets we weave are sold cheaply on the market, but still I have to work day and night with my mother and brothers at home," she told Salaam Times.
They produce high quality hand-woven carpets, she said, but the work is difficult, and traders and some companies buy them at low prices.
Since the restrictions on women's employment, which parallel the ban on girls' education, some have turned to carpet weaving to escape mental pressure, support their families and regain Afghanistan's position in production, Sakina Hashemi, 24, told Salaam Times.
"Before starting to weave carpets, I was a second-year political science student at a private university in Baghlan," said Hashemi, who is learning to weave carpets in Pul-e-Khumri.
"After the closure of universities for girls, I had to stay home," she said. "I tried to find something to keep me busy to escape depression and isolation at home. Fortunately, I found carpet weaving and I am working now."
"I am currently learning how to weave carpets, and my mental health is better than before."
"My other goal is to reclaim the name of Afghan products, as different countries have exported our products under their own name in the past," she said.
"No effort can replace education, but I want to continue weaving carpets until the issue of girls' education is resolved and universities are re-opened for girls," Hashemi added.
Negin Masoudi, 19, a 12th grader at Bebe Amena Girls High School in Baghlan, said she has faced similar challenges since the ban on girls' education.
"Although carpet weaving is a difficult job for girls, I had to choose it to reduce mental pressure," she told Salaam Times.
"My mental state has improved since I've started to learn carpet weaving, and I have found hope for life again," Masoudi said.
"If they have closed the doors of schools and universities, we will open new doors of vocations and will never allow the removal of girls and women from society," she vowed.
At one time, rugs produced in Baghlan were shipped to Kabul and from there to Pakistan, where they were exported "under Pakistan's name", said Baghlan Department of Culture and Information cultural director Ezat Mir Haqqani.
"Now, however, carpets are processed in the country and sold as Afghan products," he told Salaam Times.
"Most of the carpets produced in the province were processed in Pakistan in the past but are now processed in Kabul," he added.
The department is working to address the challenges that carpet weavers face with the private sector, and find ways to sell locally manufactured carpets in the domestic and international markets, Haqqani said.
"Girls are highly motivated and work hard" to fill the gap in their lives that education once filled, said Kunduz city resident Tamana Habibi, 25.
"Girls and women have overcome disappointment," she told Salaam Times. "They are motivated and work hard to enhance their academic capabilities and learn different vocations."
"I want to convey this message to all my sisters that they should remain active in society, as they were in the past, and as women, they should serve their country and people," she said.
"I am confident that the path we have chosen in these difficult circumstances will lead Afghanistan to progress and success."
Education is the fundamental right of Afghan citizens, including women, emphasised Habibi. She called on the international community to support Afghan women by lifting restrictions on their education.