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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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Zardozi visits its sisters in Indonesia

In order to effectively serve Afghan women as well as achieve excellence in its programs, Zardozi made a third trip to Indonesia to revisit its sisters from PEKKA, a women’s empowerment organization in Indonesia. The trip was mainly arranged for learning purposes between Zardozi Kadars (Volunteer Members) and PEKKA.

In 2016, representatives of PEKKA came to Kabul after Zardozi got introduced to them in 2015 for a knowledge exchange. This year, in April 2019, Zardozi’s leadership team together with two Kadars had another opportunity to observe in-person the approaches PEKKA uses to address women’s problems in their communities. In fact, this exchange program is a useful initiative in achieving Zardozi’s objective to gradually empower Kadars by enabling them to make their own decisions and plan and implement Zardozi’s programs at the grassroots level.

PEKKA is recognized as one of the Japanese Social Development Fund (JSDF) and the World Bank’s best projects. It serves over 25,000 women ‘heads of household’ in more than 800 villages across Indonesia. PEKKA has been active in providing women various programs related to such issues as education, health, and access to justice, livelihood and women’s leadership in the community. The exchange program is a good learning experience for the two organizations as both shares a common ground: empowering disadvantaged women to support themselves financially.

In particular, the trip was a personal achievement for Zardozi volunteer members, the Kadars who are representatives of women in the community. “Who was I and where am I now?” said Ms. Kubra when she returned more committed to help the women of her community. She explained, “When I first began to work, I didn’t have the courage to get out of my home, but today I was not only out of my home but somewhere out of the country in a completely different world.” That was the kind of empowerment Ms. Kubra wants to attain for women in her village.

The takeaway of Salima, another of Zardozi’s Kadars, was that Indonesian and Afghan women encounter similar problems. During her stay, she heard about how a young girl was going to be given into marriage to an older man, but luckily the wedding was stopped by PEKKA’s Kadars, she acknowledged.

“Women over there work very hard and are very inspirational,” shared Salima. She also noted that Indonesian women were less restricted by men in terms of going out of the home, which she thought was a great advantage that a majority of Afghan women don’t have. This has been one of the biggest obstacles for Afghan women to get over.

Talking about lessons learned, Salima noted, “What made PEKKA different was that they had a separate group of Kadars for legal matters called Legal Kadars. We can integrate this into our programs because this group of Kadars was more professional, well-learned and effective in solving legal matters (e.g. divorce) and engaging with government.”

Also, Zardozi regional manager, Ms. Nasreen Sahibzada was fascinated by the hard work and determination of women in Indonesia. The women gave a high percentage of their own savings as loans funds. “This is a very good approach for the self-sustainability of Kadars and clients. PEKKA now has 35,000 women enrolled in the savings groups, and without PEKKA’s or other foreign support, these women will always have their savings to receive loans.”

This knowledge exchange program has not only benefited Zardozi but also PEKKA when they visited Kabul and learned about the different strategies Zardozi used to outreach to women and their families..

On their trip to Kabul, PEKKA representatives were intrigued by Zardozi’s attempts to reach out to and connect with the family members of their clients, through events that celebrate successful women. “Such events appreciate not only women, but also their family members—especially supportive husbands—and this is a very strategic, smart approach in a context where women have lots of restrictions,” said PEKKA’s manager of institutional development Kodar Tri Wusananingsih about celebrating successful women events.

“It helps set a good example for families of other women,” added Wusananingsih.

At the end, the two organizations agreed on a long term commitment and more information sharing sessions in the future.

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From a Door-less House to Eqlima’s Own Little House

Once lived a comfortable and luxurious life, Eqlima’s struggles and hardships start from windowless rooms and a door-less house. This is the story of a mother of 2 children whose husband fell sick from major injuries resulting into damaging his nervous system. Eqlima’s husband was the only provider for the family which did not last longer.

Several years ago, Eqlima took her sick husband to Pakistan in hope of curing his illness. Most of their savings were drained in his treatments and medicine but wasted without any big results. His injuries bled Eqlima’s heart as day by day they lacked the capacity to afford appropriate amount of food and clothes to wear.

“Rents went overdue. We had to evacuate the house in less than five days. My father in-law gave us an old house which did not

have windows and doors. Most nights I had to stay awake to protect my children from any possible threat,” sobbed Eqlima as she recalled this.

Eqlima’s family advised her to divorce her husband and remarry for the betterment of her and her one year old baby’s life. But she had realized one thing and that was if she could help herself that would be through working for herself so that she never has to beg to be saved. She wanted to be capable enough to stand firm against all the problems on her own because incidents such as her husband’s are inevitable.

Eqlima did not leave her husband; instead she worked on her skills of Khamak Dozi and tailoring which she had picked up from her mother. But the amount of money she could earn did not suffice for meeting all of the needs of her children and sick husband. Her in-laws had also stopped supporting her.

Sometime later, Eqlima’s neighbours informed her about Zardozi’s services but her in-laws family did not like the idea of her going to an NGO because all of the traditional families see it led by foreigners who are not Muslims and are dominated with men.

Eqlima attended business, marketing and communications training anyway. She didn’t listen to what her family was saying, because she was not dependent on them. Her hard work was slowly paying off. After some time, she became service provider to her Manbe (Community Business Centre) and began to train other women which further enhanced her skills and encouraged her to attract more customers. She earned enough to repair and furnish her house. “These rooms, kitchens and bathrooms you see is the fruitful result of my work, nobody else did it for me,” said with pride Eqlima.

She added,” I remember when I started with 300-500 AFS but now my income is around 15,000 – 20,000 Afghanis per month. My children are in a good school, my husband is getting better, and I can buy every necessary thing for my house. I also bought myself some nice jewellery.” Eqlima says that her story even inspired her sister-in law who was against her work. Now she goes to Manbeh every week and I help her with her tailoring skills. I am very grateful to Zardozi. It directed me to the right path.”

Eqlima is not the only woman who comes with difficulties as such. There are more like her but what we can do is to give them the feeling that they are not alone in this fight and with some motivation and guidance they can find their way out.

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Nadira is Not Giving Up

Somewhere in a small village of Mazar-e-Sharif, a big sign board outside a not very big shop covered with glamorous pictures of women having had their hair, makeup and nails nicely done, beats much of the negative stereotypes held against beauty parlours like Ms. Nadira.

Nadira is one of Zardozi’s oldest clients. She started receiving business trainings in different sectors in 2015. But her love for makeup, making sophisticated hairstyles and doing Heena motivated her to take more lessons in this area. She saved her money to complete her only one wish- opening a big beauty salon facilitated with a lot of tools and equipments. After saving money through tailoring and loan from Zardozi, she was finally able to open her village’s first salon this year in March.

But Nadira’s initiative created some sort of concerns among the male dominated community. She was confronted by a lot of men asking her father to close her shop, because it was against the Afghan tradition and their values. However, the women were happy because now they could fix their make-up by a professional and look more beautiful when attending parties or getting done their weekly eyebrows and hands waxing.

“Very few women were coming to the parlour in the first two months, “said Nadira. “I couldn’t make a lot out of it which was disappointing. I had waited my whole life for this dream to come true but I also couldn’t give up this early.”

Although Nadira’s first two months were filled with distress and frustration, few weeks later she saw that more women felt the need to go to her place but due to family restrictions they couldn’t. Hamida who lives near to Nadira’s house says that she secretly went out to cut her hair at Arayeshgah Zebaye Jahan- the name of Nadira’s salon. “It takes time until people get used to accepting new things,” said Hamida. Currently, her income is greater than before but not as much as what Nadira expects it to be.

Nadira keeps trying until she makes it since there is always hope for progress she believes.

What’s interesting is that unlike many other girls who get married in their teenage years; 26-years-old Nadira is still undecided about marriage and having kids. “I want to have a good future for myself. People say nobody will marry me because a woman’s beauty goes away with age, but I don’t listen to them. I want to work hard and become independent first,” explained Nadira why she was not thinking about getting married yet. Today, Nadira is living her one and only dream. Her strong motivation keeps her going.



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Finding Market for Wool Spinners

Recently, a high demand for wool spinning has been realized in the domestic markets. Zardozi surveys have found out that many women have shown interest in the wool spinning sector in Qala-i-Fatu of Kabul.

Ms. Masouma who has been tailoring for several months says “wool spinning is more fun plus it is always good to look for alternative ways of earning and this has turned out to be more profitable.”

Ten of Zardozi clients who have already began their work in this area have however found it difficult to have a wider access to national markets for their services. In a Manbeh meeting, Zardozi Kadars made their voice and request heard so that Kabul Main Office can help them find markets for their production.

The Kadars including Ms. Durdana who herself supplemented her income by spinning wool for three years, together with Zardozi market development officers met with Uddin Wardak Wool Washing and Carpet Weaving Company to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU). Uddin Wardak Company has been active in several provinces of Afghanistan where it has its branches mainly working with women. The company processes wool washing through machineries and distributes it to the wool spinners in Kabul and other provinces. Many women who cannot travel outside their homes are provided with transportation or are delivered wool to be washed in homes and collected back.

The owner of the company Mr. Mateen was delighted to meet with the women interested in this job and asked them to pay a close visit from the company after which they could start their work. The wool spinners from Naw-Abad Qala-i-Fatu also accepted the terms and conditions of the company to take orders. Following the agreement, Uddin Wardak Company delivered nine clients of Zardozi 60kg wool as a test for spinning.

Gul Chaman who has been spinning wool for months now says that her and her colleagues work impressed and satisfied the company’s needs. She is happy for getting employed as she will be now able to pay her tuition and studies fees.

Currently all nine of the clients work for the Uddin Wardak Wool Spinning Company while Zardozi’s Kabul Manbeh (Community Business Centre) has 21 more active clients working in this sector which generates a moderate amount of revenue for them and their families.


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Afghan Women Online Exhibition

From the beginnings of Zardozi, physical exhibitions have been one of the effective ways in holding women’s micro businesses strong. These exhibitions have provided women with the opportunity to achieve their marketing objectives to find good suppliers and customers.

Now Zardozi has taken a newer step in developing women’s businesses as our clients’ businesses will run more efficiently in a technologically advanced environment.

The Ministry of Women’s Affairs, in partnership with a private entity, has initiated the first Women Online Exhibition. This has enabled Zardozi to display many of its clients’ products online and expand the range of its visitors. “The online exhibition will open the door for attracting more people on international level which will also increase the value of Afghan handcrafts,” says Ms. Farida- Zardozi business trainer.

Although the women we work with have little or no knowledge about online exhibitions, Zardozi trainers facilitates information sessions for these women to have a larger access to alternative ways of doing business.

“The good thing about this exhibition is that now women who do not have permission to go out on daily basis or to attend our physical exhibitions, can have their products posted on this website. They will make easy money from home,” says Yalda Azimi- Zardozi’s Market Development Manager.

Zardozi Program Director, Ms. Hasina Aimaq emphasized the significance of online exhibitions, “This is a great platform for advertisement of the products as well. Many women who do not have the financial ability to promote their products, finds this to be the only chance to thrive.”

We acknowledge that the presence of women and her contribution to the economy of the country is vital.