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Married at the age of 13, Samia raises her four children alone

Afghan women are hunted by child and forced marriages. Twenty-three years old Samia was also not able to escape this cruel destiny which put her in despair and agony. Like many parents who sold their daughters for money, Samia’s father too gave her in marriage to a shopkeeper who had lent a lot of money to her father.

In a failed attempt to get out of his debt, Samia was forced to get engaged at the age of 13.

“I grew up hating my father and all men. A 13 years old child didn’t deserve this; nobody does,” she sobbed. Samia has gone through some of the most painful days of her life. One of it was giving birth to her first child when she was only 14 years old.  After a while, her husband started to behave differently. He would not go to home all day and night and upon arrival, he would beat her and the children. Samia realized that he spends most of his time sitting with drug addicts and smoking Hashish. “I was informed by my family that he slept under ruined bridges and in destructed buildings,” said Samia. She explained that despite all her efforts to save his life and to do his treatment through the money she borrowed from the neighbors, he could not be cured.

“The next worse thing was that it was not only my husband who became a drug addict but he also dragged my brother into this disaster. None of them have any clue about what we suffer every day.”

Left alone with 4 children, Samia had to take care of everything. She and her 9 year old son begun to earn little money from working at people’s houses as servants while her son would collect cans and bottles from garbage to sell.

Samia was introduced to Zardozi by family support center of a hospital in Herat. Her trainers described her as a woman of strong will when she first came to Zardozi office. After regularly attending the trainings, Samia learned about different stories of women who had confronted their fears, challenged their families and defeated the wrong traditions as they established their mini businesses. Looking up to all these women, she urged to open her own beauty parlor.

Zardozi enrolled Samia as trainee at one of the beauty salons next to her home. When she was finally ready to start her own business, she lacked the necessary equipment and materials. Therefore, Zardozi clients cooperated with Samia as each woman donated their makeup kits and beauty products until she was able to make good money and open a shop outside her home.

Samia acknowledged, “Zardozi became my new family. The women in Manbeh were like sisters to me and I can never thank them enough for always supporting me and lifting me up. Here are many women like me who have good lives and all of this would not be possible without Zardozi.”


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Giving women their long lost identity

Zardozi works with women who come from rural, poor and uneducated families. They are unfamiliar with the world outside the windows of their mud houses. Wrong traditions and family restrictions have confined and cut their wings to thrive in their lives. They are unable to say no to all kinds of verbal and physical violence. The moment they have raised their voices, their tongues and ears are cut and their bodies are burned and buried.

Government alone is not capable of protecting women especially reaching out to those who live far away from urban areas. To fill the vacuum, Zardozi’s objective for many years has been to target these areas and boost women’s confidence and potential in there so that they can thoroughly find their own ways to approach and address a problem in their family and community.

For instance, when most of these women want to refer to government offices to have their problems solved, they are not pleasantly welcomed unless they are slightly educated, well spoken, appropriately dressed and most importantly confident. Therefore equipping them with the right skills and giving them that identity is our job and so far an achievement. Women have powerfully demonstrated their capabilities to solve their problems independently.

Recently in Jalalabad, the women who used to be nobody and insignificant part of their families and society had Jalalabad Governor, Shah Mahmood Miakhail to listen to them and to facilitate education, health care, electricity and other needs for their community. These women who also go by the name of Kadars brought together their community Malak or elders and discussed the community problems with Governor Miakhail.

The meeting was as a result of several days of phone calls, knocking doors and convincing both villagers and the Governor for switching their attention to women’s suffering and preventing it from escalating.

It was impressive and a moment of proud for the Governor when he saw Afghan women with little education but strong commitment to uplift themselves and advocate for their avowed rights to be free and independent.

In Herat and Kabul, the women’s representatives arranged meetings and signed Memorandums of Understanding (MoUs) with several private hospitals’ heads that will subsequently provide affordable health care to Zardozi women. This includes discount, and free of charge medical care in exceptional cases.

Zahra who is one of Zardozi’s clients suffered from years of untreated severe Kidney pain. Due to financial problems, Zahra could not afford a good treatment until the Kadars introduced her to one of the hospitals in Herat. The hospital agreed to treat her illness for free. Zahra said, “I am so grateful. My illness had made me less productive but now that I take the medicine I can focus on my work and life.”


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How Strategic Workshops are Helping Women to Move Forward

On July 7 -11, 2019, Zardozi conducted a five day Strategic Workshop endeavored to take necessary actions for the effective implementation of Zardozi program. The Strategic Workshops are conducted every year where Zardozi’s Regional Managers, Kadars, Executive Committee Members and other representatives of women are invited from the regional offices and gathered on one table to develop strategies, make policies and draw road maps to build the Institutional capacity of Zardozi as well as its grass roots women organization- Nisfe Jahan. The participants go through the process of identifying the organization’s immediate needs and challenges in order to develop plans for it. This also includes a review of existing plans and strategies.

In the recent workshop Kadars (community volunteers) raised some major issues that they and the women in their communities have encountered.

Zardozi directors in consultation with the participants came up with solutions that could adequately address the needs of women they serve. The workshop was more productive when Mazar-e-Sharif regional manager, Nasreen Sahibzada provided various insights and opinions from her visit to PEKKA- a sister organization in Indonesia. Many of the initiatives implemented by PEKKA were found to be applicable for women in Afghanistan as well.

The workshop was an effective platform for women not only to plan better strategies for their businesses but also to build their management and leadership skills.

It was also a good opportunity for the participants to establish network among themselves to learn from one another experience in the communities, considering the fact that they are representing different regions with different culture and norms.

At the end of the Strategic Workshop, the participants, Zardozi staff and regional managers were awarded appreciation certificates in recognition of their hard work and commitment to serve the most disadvantaged women who do not have as much access to resources as women in cities do. Zardozi is proud of working with a group of most dedicated and inspiring women as well as men who steadfastly stand behind them.


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Empowering Women through Saffron Cultivation

Women everywhere are great contributors to peace. Today, they play an active role in fighting off the on-going war by cultivating saffron instead of poppy – a crop which has partially fueled the war in Afghanistan.

Saffron also well-known for Afghan red gold, has earned an exceptional place and name in the international market. One Kilogram of the saffron harvest is $1,500 making it the most expensive crop on earth.

Therefore, the saffron business idea was introduced by Zardozi business trainers and Kadars to women attending the Ali Abad Manbeh in Mazar-e-sharif. Lajward who suddenly thought about the empty land at her backyard agreed to use it for harvesting saffron while also bringing two of her other friends into the team.“This is a very new idea. We will examine if our first year production was good, we will buy larger land than this,” said Sharifa, Lajward’s business partner.

Meanwhile, Mazar-e-sharif regional office Kadars held a meeting with Director of Balkh Agriculture Department to help Nisfe-Jahan members in this sector. On 15th of July, Balkh Agriculture Department gave 60kg Saffron to the women and promised for future cooperation. With some training from Kadar, Sharifa, Lajward and Khadija started to plant saffron seeds which will give results within timeline of one year.

Shaima who trained the group in this sector said, “If successful, the business will lead a good example for other women to cover their fields with beautiful purple flowers of saffron.”  “It is a profitable business and many women across the country are already earning a substantial amount of money”, she added.

Zardozi and Nisfe-jahan helps women to consider different kinds of business ideas so that women have more options and higher chances of succeeding at what they choose.

Most of the women in the informal business sector might be unaware of the contribution they are making to the country’s economic prosperity and peace but that has been the mission all this time. More women have come to recognize the effect they have on change both on the family level and community level.

Khadija spoke in gratefulness and talked about how Zardozi became a changing point in her life. She was able to gain her power and respect at home as she currently runs all the finances and expenditure of her home.


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How to Become a Good Businesswoman?

Many women who aspire to become businesswomen do not have sufficient information about how will they achieve that goal. They want to open their own businesses and become good businesswomen but without enough knowledge and courage to take the right steps that will walk them up the ladder, is hard.

While most of these women come with less or no education they initially have to learn the ABCs of business. Most of them find it very hard at first and are hesitant to move forward.

Zardozi has solved this situation by working closely with women to go through each phase slowly so that they don’t feel helpless and alone in this journey. The women learn about theoretical concepts along with lessons from videos that illustrate real life experiences of animated women who want to do business and succeed.

The business training videos are developed from Zardozi’s training modules in collaboration of the DFID-funded Afghan business support initiative Harakat. They have been effective for several years now, since it has made learning easier and more practical for the women. Amina says, “At first I didn’t understand what the instructors were explaining to us. I was lost about how I can relate myself to the lessons. But ever since I saw Roya (character in the video), she practically showed us what to do.”

After the business training, the marketing team walks with these women to do a shop-tour by introducing them to different markets and shopkeepers in different parts of city. Some women who demands to take order are accompanied by Zardozi staff and secures first three orders for them from a shopkeeper so that the women are familiarized with the process of contact building and contract making.

On a warm morning in Kabul, 20 women crowd together in a small room where the air of fan also does not change the fainting temperature. The women meet regularly in the same room every morning for five to six days listening carefully and enthusiastically to their trainers and video lessons that are played on a blank wall.

For Shafiqa, the heat does not seem to be much bothering. “These problems are part of our daily lives. To learn, one has to go through all troubles and I don’t want to miss this opportunity,” said Shafiqa, cleaning the sweat from her forehead.

Sitting next to Shafiqa, her close friend, Khadija said, “I always dreamt to open my own tailoring workshop, but I didn’t have any idea what I should do. With start of this training I have learned a lot especially the marketing training has been very helpful. I was able to identify my customers need and it also connected me with other tailors and production workshops in the market. I will be opening my first workshop by the start of next year.”

 


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Nisfe-Jahan’s New Chairwoman

We congratulate and warmly welcome Nisfe-Jahan- Zardozi’s grassroots women organization newly elected Chairwoman, Ms. Hafsa Hashimi and her deputy Ms. Farida Soorabi. Ms. Hashimi came through free elections during the strategic Workshop where Kadars and Executive Committee Members cast their vote to the nominated candidates.

Hafsa Hashimi was born in a destitute family where she and her sisters faced many difficulties to get an education. Everything came at the cost of sacrifice and hard work for Ms. Hafsa. Her motivation and sympathy for other women enabled her to very well represent our clients who come from similar background.

The Nisfe-Jahan elections are conducted every year to choose the Chairwoman and Deputy Chairwoman for one year.

Ms. Hafsa is a well-accomplished and educated woman whose knowledge and experience will be a great asset to the improvement and sustainability of Nisfe-Jahan.


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Sustaining Nisfe-Jahan

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Sustainability is a key part of all Zardozi strategies. The Nisfe-Jahan (Half the World) grassroots women’s organization has been one of Zardozi’s utmost accomplishments to this end. Established in 2010, Nisfe-Jahan has been nurtured into an organization that is independently run by a group of very committed local women who play vital leadership roles to move their societies toward prosperity. For almost 9 years, the organization with some support from Zardozi has maintained a reputation that sought recognition by President Ashraf Ghani and first lady Rula Ghani.

During his speech in the national conference for non-governmental organizations, President Ghani specifically thanked Nisfe-Jahan in the economic sector. He proudly said, “When the foreign aid ceased to fund Zardozi activities, Nisfe-Jahan was on its feet to support the women in need. Nisfe Jahan is one of Afghanistan’s prides.”

Secondly, what is worth noting about Nisfe Jahan is that it comes from the hearts of the communities; it’s directly involved with women on the grassroots level. Its Business Community Centers which are famous for Manbehs in the local language, are led by the communities’ women to provide business services in return for small fees. The exchange is used as an approach that has almost stood the organization on its feet. Zardozi, on the other hand, lead on overall strategy development and policy and advocacy at the national level.

The organization, unlike others has injected women with the idea that their self-sustainability cannot come through reliability on the organization only, but it comes through the commitment and effort they have to put into themselves and their respective businesses which will generate a reasonable amount of income for them and their families.

Moreover, “sustainability of program outcomes has been further supported by devolving much of the responsibility for program implementation to a cadre of empowered and capacitated women activists who are recognized as leaders in their communities and who have demonstrated an eagerness to support other women,” explains Zardozi’s former executive director Dr. Kerry Jane.

She adds, “In the past few years Kadar have demonstrated a practical and valuable role for this association of economically and socially empowered female entrepreneurs. Nisfe Jahan leaders are unequivocal in their commitment to addressing the barriers that lock impoverished women and their families into poverty. They have already demonstrated that, as local women, they are more effective than Kabul-based Zardozi at identifying and implementing at a local level, the actions needed to strengthen livelihoods, resolve pressing community problems and change attitudes to women’s rights and agency.”

Today, the Kadars are well-accomplished and adequately experienced to echo the voices of women in the government offices to shift their attention to less advantaged women deprived of a lot of things. The Kadars are a bridge that has filled the gap between the impoverished women and community elders, mullahs, private and non-private sectors, lawyers and other local authorities.

In addition, Nisfe-Jahan exhibitions are another considerable step which has facilitated and paved the way for businesses. More women are now able to do marketing for their products and attract more customers through the monthly exhibitions held by the organization.

These are the baby steps toward sustaining Nisfe Jahan, an organization that will run in the long term until it has put a full stop to poverty. “Nisfe Jahan is now committed to a road map to the level of institutional capacity that will enable women to raise and manage their own funds for local projects at the same time as continuing as a funded partner to Zardozi,” says Kerry Jane Wilson.

Kadars Helped Improve Clinic Services

The Mazar-e-Sharif Kadars once again tirelessly helped the women of its community to solve their problems. The clients in Manbeh Gughdak in Mazar-e-Sharif were afflicted by the poor services and inappropriate behavior of doctors in their district. The community people were helpless to tackle the program and did not have the courage to file a complaint against the clinic. Therefore, the only way to address the problem was through Kadars who are well-aware, and have strong support. In consultation with the community leaders, the Kadars together with other women of the village went to Balkh Health Department and discussed the matter. The manager of the department appreciated the women for informing them about the situation and reality on the ground level. After some time of follow up, the Kadars received positive feedbacks about services of the clinic. The people of Gughdak say that now after every three months the clinic is monitored directly by the Health Department. The change is already evident.


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Shewaki Women Found Access to Education Again

On 27th of June, 2019, Kadar (volunteer members) with support from Nisfe Jahan and Zardozi inaugurated the first literacy course in Shewaki district of Kabul. Living in the most conservative part of the city, Shewaki women desired to return back to school and sit in a classroom with their pens and books opened once again.

18 years old Aqila who left school when she was in 6th grade is hopeful to continue her love for education. She says, “Something wrong had happened with a school girl last year. After that, my father stopped me from going to school. He is a teacher and very open minded person, but he was scared that people will say bad things about us too.” But Aqila’s father allowed her to resume her studies at the literacy course, because he was regretful about his decision.

It is unfortunate that more women like Aqila had to quit their studies because the society deems education as a shame for grown up girls. “They tell us that education will do us no good once we marry and have kids,” Sheba said as we spoke about education for women. However, for many, the course will help them to read and write to enhance their businesses and become great mothers in raising good men and women.


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Zardozi participated in the Peace Loya Jirga

Today more than ever, Afghan women’s role in society and peace has been essential and evident. With the initiation of the Consultative Peace Loya Jirga, almost 3,000 delegates from across the country, including women who made almost 30% of the Jirga, came together as one to freely express their opinions. Zardozi representatives: Hasina Aimaq, program director; Aziza Karimi, Herat regional manager; and a client also actively participated in the CPLG’s committees’ discussions. The platform facilitated an environment where they made their demands heard loud and clear.

For Hasina Aimaq, the importance of the Jirga was more than its essence. It was about her presence and fight finally getting recognized on a bigger and national level.

Ms. Aziza Karimi, the regional manager of Herat shares, “This Jirga was vital for us, because when women were initially forgotten in the peace process, today they had their rights preserved so that no deal is cut behind the curtains which could disregard women’s rights and accomplishments over the past several years.”

“We are the main victims of war and if we don’t have a chair on the table today, we don’t have anything in the future either,” added Masouma, Zardozi’s client from a small village of Kabul.


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Farida Creates More Jobs for Women

From a simple house-wife to leading more than 20 women today, Farida Soorabi is playing a great role as a good mother, a successful entrepreneur and an inspirational leader at her newly expanded tailoring workshop.

A few months ago when we wrote about Farida’s story, she told us that she was planning on expanding of her business. At the time, around 20 women were working for her.

But given the fine quality of her work, Farida received many clothes orders, from both inside and outside the country, which led her to open a bigger workshop, hire more women and buy more advanced equipment to decrease the burden of work as well as provide faster services to her customers.

Farida improved her business by securing loans from Zardozi on four occasions. This time she was able to use her savings and some support from her brother to rent a bigger place.  Farida has 30 female workers at the new tailoring workshop, 15of whom are clients of Zardozi. Each of them earns about 5,000 – 10,000 AFS doing work that ranges from stitching school uniforms to making Afghani embroidery dresses. Farida says, “I work closely with every woman to ensure they are effective at their work and have the skills to start their personal businesses. I want the best for other women so that they become self-reliant like me.”

Jamila, who works at Farida’s workshop, wisely shares, “We are very comfortable working with Ustad Farida. She inspires me a lot, because she is the first woman in our area who has her own tailoring workshop. This has always been men’s job.” Farida adds that some of the women came from other workshops to work with her, because they had felt harassed by some men. That is one of the many reasons why she is happy facilitating a place where young girls can earn income for themselves in a safe environment.

Farida plans to hire more female tailors as there is high demand for the Afghani clothes she produces. Since she has attracted some foreign customers, she is planning on opening a showroom for her products and creating social media pages, on which people in other provinces and outside the country can also see and purchase her products online.


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