Afghanistan women: Weaving their way out of poverty

Published on Monday, 08 April 2013

Published by Shanny Campbell on Monday, 08 April 2013

Written by Shanny Campbell, Senior Social Development Specialist (GAD)

What do you do if you want to boost the benefits flowing to women from a regional road project? The usual answers are to make sure an equitable slice of the employment generated goes to women (construction and maintenance), that planning includes listening to and designing for the gendered needs of women (types of journeys, enhancing access to markets and services, preferential seating and waiting areas for public transport, adequate lighting to increase safety, etc) and consideration for the impacts of the road itself (especially if there is land acquisition, but also with respect to human trafficking and disease risk spiking with the influx of construction workers).

You need to think a bit harder when the roads in question are in rural Afghanistan and the women generally don’t leave their home compounds, and never without being accompanied by a male relative.

Handicraft projects for women have gone out of favor in recent years, it seems. However in a place like Bamiyan, in central Afghanistan, the demand from regional traders for good quality embroidery namad and gilims (carpets, rugs) is high, and quality pieces can fetch a good price. In conjunction with the Yakawlang-Bamayan Road section of the North-South Road project, ADB contracted the Bamyan Women’s Business Association in late 2011 to leverage the improvement in this trading route to enable women to earn higher incomes from handicraft production. Ninety women with varying degrees of existing skills, but all meeting minimum poverty criteria, were selected for not only skill training but also training in improved leadership techniques, women’s empowerment, business management, financial literacy, value chain analysis, business plan preparation, and were assisted to form business networks.

The project upgraded the skills of women in designing and weaving namad, gilim and cloth embroidery; it increased their knowledge of the value chain; linked them with markets; provided guidance on how women could work in groups; and developed women into effective small business managers and organizational leaders. Women’s labor force participation in this area is low at around 15%. The aim is that by 2015, this has increased to at least 20%. By the tenth month of the project, each women’s small industrial association had received an average of 20 orders from the local market, with corresponding impacts on monthly incomes. I think this is a good start.

While the project is small and the impacts so far modest, the intangible benefits are perhaps the most important. These women have a legitimate reason to leave the house each day. Their skill and contribution to household economics has become visible and tangible, which must impact upon their sense of worth, both in their own eyes and that of others. The small industrial associations have improved the solidarity amongst these women, through the exchange of information, the making of business decisions and the daily planning and implementation routines, including managing workers and marketing products. This should impact on the quality of the women’s participation in discussions regarding future projects or community development. Hopefully the daughters of these women feel as inspired by them as I do.