HERAT -- The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) launched this year an initiative in Herat for 120 Afghan women of all ages who are displaced or are returning home after a period of displacement.
The women taking part in the "Making Afghanistan" initiative learn carpet weaving, embroidery, painting, miniature drawing and bag sewing.
The programme is implemented by a local nongovernmental organisation (NGO) called the Welfare Association for the Development of Afghanistan (WADAN).
The participants in the programme are the sole breadwinners of their households, said Hassan Khan Ahmadzai, director of WADAN in Herat.
"Besides technical and vocational training, every trainee receives a monthly salary of 7,000 AFN [$80] to support her family. Some participants have opened their own businesses after completing the training and are now making a living," he said.
"These women and girls will continue to receive support from our office after graduation. We try to find suitable markets for their hand-crafted products, both locally and abroad."
"We have launched an online sales platform, where customers get to order the items they want to buy," he added.
The purpose of the initiative is to support displaced women and returnees from neighbouring countries by providing employment for them and helping their families overcome poverty and destitution, he said.
Rescuing families from poverty
Marzia Haidary, 22, who was displaced from Bamiyan province to Herat two years ago, is taking part in "Making Afghanistan" and learning a new vocation.
She said her life was transformed since she has joined the programme seven months ago, adding, "We are six people in my family, and my father is old and cannot work. I am the only breadwinner."
"We face many economic challenges, but our life has improved very much since I have enrolled in the programme," she said.
In addition to covering their daily expenses, her income pays the rent and utility bills, Haidary said.
Sakina Mirzaei, 23, who was displaced from Daikundi province to Herat along with her family, has been learning carpet weaving through the initiative since last year.
"I am now earning enough to support my family," she said.
Fatema Rezaei, 30, who works in the programme's embroidery section, also said her family's economic situation has improved since she joined the programme.
"My husband is a day labourer and goes out to find work every morning but returns home empty-handed in the evening. He is able to find work only two days a month," she said.
"My work is very valuable to me and my family. I receive a monthly salary, and I'm able to buy food and other household items," she added.
'Many women need to work'
Afghan women need to work outside the home and contribute to the development of their country, to avoid sinking deeper into poverty, some say.
Fatima Ghulami, 32, who has four children, has been working as a member of the cleaning staff at a private company in Herat city for a year.
She has an associate degree and used to work in the Gender section of Herat's Directorate of Women's Affairs but lost her job in August 2021.
"I do not have a breadwinner in the household. If I don't work, who would feed my children?" said Ghulami, whose husband was a police officer who died on duty in Obe district, Herat province.
"There are many women like me who need to go out and work to save their families from poverty and starvation," she added.
"But unfortunately, Afghan society ignores women's desire to work outside the home. There are social restrictions on women that have caused many families to face poverty and starvation," Ghulami said.
The economic crisis has created poverty, affecting many households, said Parwana Toofan, a women's rights activist in Herat. Therefore, many women need to work to earn a living or participate in providing for their families' needs.
"Women have great potential in various sectors, especially handicrafts and commercial activities, and they should be provided with the opportunity to work."
"If women cannot work and men cannot find work, the family's economy will fall apart and poverty will prevail," she added.
No country has progressed without the strong presence of women in the economy, Toofan said, praising Afghan women for bravely facing restrictions to work despite all the obstacles.