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“She” should lead

For years Zardozi- Markets for Afghan Artisans negate people’s general concept about women’s inabilities and demystify women’s potential in important fields such as business and leadership. In looking into the future, Zardozi wants to create a place that is run by women for women, because opportunities for women often come from other women as they can better understand and address the challenges of the women they work for. Working in an Afghan society, Zardozi has identified a dire need for hiring female regional managers for its offices in other provinces recently.

In order to smoothly escalate our goals and services to a larger number of women, we have successfully hired Nasrin Sahibzada and Aziza Karimi as our first regional office managers in Jalalabad and Heart offices.

Jalalabad regional manager, Ms. Nasreen’s professional career started at Zardozi in 2010. She started working in the field of market development and gradually promoted to higher positions. Zardozi saw her best candidate for Jalalabad’s regional manager position.  Ms. Nasreen’s commitment and thoughtful guidance and support for women securing a better future are great achievements for Zardozi. Ms. Sahibzada’s eyes filled with hope and enthusiasm as she told us, “These women need us. In order to solve problems that are too personal to women, we must put them in a comfortable situation to speak up without hesitation. Previously women were shy when discussing their life with male managers but they are happy now. We can find better solutions once we recognize the problems accurately.”

“There is a valid reason why the organization is hiring more women in our offices,” says Zardozi’s Market Development Manager. She adds, “Since Zardozi has based its Community Business Centers -Manbehs- in family houses where a non-family male is not allowed so that the women who are benefiting from our services are relaxed and their families are at ease to let them attend the Manbehs, a male regional manager cannot observe Manbehs directly and is not able to meet and discuss women’s problems and needs from near. This way, it is also difficult for managers to identify problems properly and find relevant resolutions because not all reports they receive convey the exact information needed.”

We also interviewed clients from Manbehs in Herat. Ms. Shagofa said, “My family trusts Zardozi because most of our interaction is with women staff. Previously when I would call our regional manager for solving problems, my family would doubt why I am talking with a ‘Non Mahram (male from whom Purdah is obligatory in Islam). The new regional manager, Ms. Karimi is a very good woman.”

Ms. Nasrin Sahibzada also added that the objective is not only to make Zardozi a comfortable place for our women clients but also to empower women by placing them in leadership and managerial positions where they can unleash their potential and become role models for other women. “I am working hard to omit the general stereotypes through my job. I want to create an atmosphere where my female and male colleagues do not feel the difference of whether a male or female is leading them because both have equal capabilities of running an office.”

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Zardozi’s first female regional manager

We are pleased to announce that Zardozi- Markets for Afghan Artisans welcomes its first female regional manager in Zardozi’s leadership. Ms. Aziza Karimi who has recently been hired as the regional manager in Herat province comes with great qualifications, experience and new ideas for the promotion and development of less privileged afghan women.

On Wednesday, August 29, 2018, Zardozi’s Executive Director, Ms. Homa Usmany introduced Ms. Aziza Karimi to her new office in an event where Justice Chief, Ghulam Mahommad Rahmani; Deputy Head of Department of Economy, Mr. Hossieni; Head of the Craft and Trade Union, Mr. Abdul Wadood Faizzada; Chief of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Women, Maryam Jami; and Head of the Women’s Worker’s Union and representative of the Human Rights Commission, Ms. Malaka Resoly were also invited.

 At the beginning of the event, Ms. Usmany spoke about Zardozi’s activities and enlightened the guests about how the organization finds and expands markets for Afghan women where their businesses can grow and flourish while also providing them with business training. During the speeches, Mr. Ghulam Mahommad Rahmani also spoke on the significance and need of female managers and appreciated Ms. Karimi for her courage and commitment to women empowerment and their economic growth. He said that women are the pillars of the society; therefore they have to take vital positions in various sections.

Ms. Karimi thanked Zardozi and called on government to support the organization’s objective to save women from domestic violence and financial breakdown. Zardozi looks forward to working with Aziza Karimi and wishes her success in all of her endeavors.

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Shakila overcame her depression at Zardozi

Bibi Shakila is one of the Afghan mothers who lost her 22 years old son to the war. After her son’s death, Bibi Shakila’s oldest son decided to join the Afghan army forces and fight the enemies who took away people like his brother. Dreaded by the death of her second son, Bibi Shakila could not afford to lose another son and begged him to not to go to army. Instead, she worked hard to learn embroidery and tailoring by joining Zardozi.

Since Bibi Shakila’s son and ill husband are jobless, she becomes the only breadwinner for the family. She started with taking some business and tailoring trainings from Zardozi and practiced embroidery at the Community Business Center (Manbeh) near her home. At the meanwhile she started sewing clothes for her neighbors. Within first two years, Shakila tremendously improved her skills and she could find good earnings as she found many customers who were happy from her work. Currently, Shakila does not only have a tailoring workshop where she has hired six female tailors but she also opened a beauty parlor with Zardozi’s loan money. While pursuing interest in both embroidery and fashion, Bibi Shakila explains, “fashion became my passion when I used to watch beautiful tall women walk on floor in TV shows. I always wished to design clothes and deal with cosmetics treatments for women. Economical difficulties led me to learn these skills.”

During the talks, Shakila said, “My son’s death was my life’s biggest tragedy but as they say what does not kill you makes you stronger, I found my strength and courage here at Zardozi. Work keeps me busy and stops me from negative thoughts.”

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Behind every successful woman is herself

The evolution of ‘celebrating successful women’ started in 2013 when Zardozi’s former director Kerry Jane Wilson realized the need to assess and appreciate the success which women have sought throughout their entrepreneurial journey. Successful women celebration is a way for Zardozi to boost confidence in women, create role models for others while also seek the attention and support of their fathers, husbands and brothers.

This month Zardozi recognized Ms. Suraya, Ms. Sabira and Ms. Zahra for their outstanding performance in maintaining a healthy business, despite facing all sort of problems. The brothers and fathers of the women who were also important part of the celebration ceremony were invited to the stage. Ms. Sabira’s father stood behind the podium with tears in his eyes and said, “My daughter has grown up into a very strong woman. She took care of her 6 months old baby on her own when her husband died in Iran two years ago. This is not an easy task for a single mother but she did it!”

We talked to the program director and staff of Zardozi who are committed to organizing more events. They told us about the problems they face each time they plan a program, because Zardozi aims to invite the male members who are most often a barrier to the success of their sisters and mothers to run a business. “Sometimes we are not able to convince most of the family members to attend these ceremonies which also discourages the woman who are getting recognized. It is difficult but we are also not stepping back,” said Nadia Tabish.

At the end of the event, Zahra whose husband have been in Iran for years says, “although your family is your biggest strength but the effort, courage and determination you put into yourself is all what sources from you and within you; that is when you should say that behind every successful woman is herself.”

We are informed that most of our celebrations result into good words being spread around the successful woman’s neighborhood. A competition begins among the women to nominate themselves for the next celebrations. Also, the men who hear and watch their women getting appreciated later encourages their male friends to allow their women to work. In an instance, Suraya’s father in-law told Zardozi, “I wish I knew about Zardozi earlier. I will advocate for women in my village and speak with the community leaders to not make troubles for your good efforts.”

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Frozan’s Entrepreneurial Spirit Led Her to Live a Better Life

Ms. Frozan comes from a small district of Mazara Sharif, Hajat Rawa. She has three children, and the eldest of all is 12 years old. Like many beneficiaries, Frozan took the opportunity and extracted the utmost advantage from Zardozi’s programs to earn as much she could in order to provide her children a standard education and a healthy lifestyle. Frozan’s friendly behavior and human connections enabled her to attract many customers and build connections with sellers and contractors.

Within one month, Frozan became the leader of her team at Manbeh and taught other women tailoring skills in the absence of Zardozi’s trainers. “Frozan became a good friend in less than an hour when I first saw her. Her tailoring skills are impressive,” said Habiba—a close friend of frozen at the Manbeh. Within 3 years, Frozan also started her personal tailoring workshop and bought necessary machinery by taking a loan from Zardozi. She hired six other women at the workshop who help her manage big contracts and complete public orders on time. “My first big contract was making 300 pairs of party dresses. The income derived was 300,000 AFS. I had never dreamt of earning this amount of money,” exclaimed Frozan.

Ms. Frozan’s husband, a shopkeeper, says that he is very proud of his wife and encourages her to further expand her business. Frozan proudly mentioned, “My husband supported me at times when people spoke ill of me while attending Manbeh. He trusted me and never stopped me even once.” Frozan’s children are now in one of Mazar-e-sharif’s best schools. Both she and her husband run the house smoothly without large financial difficulties.

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Yes, Women Can Be Leaders, too!

“Some examples of great leaders are Ashraf Ghani, Karzai, our fathers, and our husbands,” answered a group of women when the leadership trainer asked them about who they recognize as leaders. But none of the examples of great leaders were women. Even when women play central roles in their families and societies, they are still undermined—a result of the lack of awareness that people have about the positions and potentials of women. Most of the women in the room don’t recognize the fact that they, too, are leaders, and that they make an equal contribution to society as their male counterparts.

Zardozi acknowledges this problem by sequencing its priorities, determining which programs can best fulfill the needs of women. We have set leadership trainings at the top of the agenda because these workshops help build women’s sense of importance to step out of their homes and make a difference.

As the information circles around the room, more women speak up about what leadership is and who can be a leader. Samina, 18 and educated, says, “All mothers are leaders.” Frozan also jumps in to explain the traits of good leaders: “A leader should be open minded, educated, honest, be able to solve people’s problems, and be a person who has a vision for the betterment of the future.” The trainer, Ms. Farida, simultaneously asks different questions from the 10 women who are present in the room on Tuesday’s session. Since most of these women have not had access to basic education, Ms. Farida acquires different ways to help the trainees understand better. In her training materials bag, she brings leadership related pictures (mostly images of female leaders), a laptop to show various videos, and other materials that can be used in performing games or carrying out role-plays.

In her feedback, Zarina speaks about her experience, “I haven’t missed even one day of the training sessions. Attending these classes has helped me know myself and my value. Now I know that yes, women can be leaders, too!” She further adds, “Women are not made for hiding at the corners of their rooms. We have had strong female leaders back in history and we still see them standing there for the rights of other women and building this country.”

Zardozi’s leadership program not only spreads general awareness, but aims to empower more women to engage in Nisfe-Jahan—to evolve into an organization that will be entirely run by women and for women. The program educates women to vote for and choose Nisfe-Jahan’s leaders who will then represent them and provide them with support. All of these efforts and work for the empowerment of women do come at a cost. Zardozi’s long term goal in attracting larger number of women is a challenging task. While some women attend Zardozi programs secretly, others face abuse on the street while going to the Community Business Centers (Manbeh). The number of women attending the trainings drops at certain times while Zardozi staff has to make settlements with community leaders and local Mullahs. These groups then collaborate with Zardozi by holding meetings with community members to encourage families to allow their wives and sisters to take advantage of the services.


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Goldozi Meets Zardozi

On Sunday, July 15, 2018, Zardozi facilitated a consultation meeting for Goldozi where Executive Director, Ms. Homa Usmany, Program Director, Ms. Hasina Aimaq and Kadars (Volunteer Members) met with Goldozi Directors Ms. Susan and her executive team at Zardozi main office. Goldozi is a similar program as Zardozi, therefore, to support the program objectives Zardozi staff and Kadars shared their two decades of experiences, and lessons learned with Goldozi. Zardozi together with Goldozi looked forward improving the livelihoods of Afghan women and discussed their future cooperation in great details.

Zardozi welcomes similar projects as Goldozi and is pleased to announce its support from projects which make an effort toward women empowerment and economic growth.

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Kadars initiative to open literacy courses

Zardozi works closely with Afghan women to enable them play significant roles in the economy and leadership of Afghanistan as well as engage them in civic activities to build their communities shoulder by shoulder with men.

Today we have the Zardozi Kadars as the empowered women who play vital leadership roles in their societies and work closely with community members to meet their needs and demands.

The Kadars have recently coordinated a literacy course of two classes for the female category of Char Kala-e-Wazir Abad and two classes in another district called Qala-e-Khatir. This demand was initially made by the local women who started to seek for reading and writing skills. Since the Kadar has been active in connecting the people with government for infrastructure purposes, therefore most of the society members see Kadars as bridge between the locals and government for processing their demands.

The Kadars have managed to hire trainers and arrange learning materials through Afghanistan’s Literacy Department. These classes have been facilitated in a local house of the trainees in order to make a comfortable and welcoming atmosphere for women who would otherwise not be allowed by their family members to attend literacy courses in other places than a family house.

Ms. Fatima, who has been working as volunteer member (Kadar) for 5 years with Zardozi talks about the importance of women empowerment through education. “Zardozi prospered my life when I had nothing. During these five years I have learned a lot from my trainers who also gave me the courage to work among a male dominated society. Today I am equipping tens of other women with the weapon of education that will lead to their social and economical independence.”

Who are Kadars?

Kadars are Zardozi’s volunteer members who perform as communication bridge between Zardozi and Nisfe-Jahan’s offices by getting involved in the implementation of Zardozi’s programs, services and activities in the four regions. Zardozi provide several capacity building trainings including business administration to the Kadars in order to prepare them to become the building blocks of their societies and help community members particularly women to engage in civic activities.

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No more tent schools

Forty-one percent of schools in Afghanistan does not have buildings and for most children it means studying under tents, other unprotected structures or in ‘open-air’.  Similarly in a far district of Heart named ‘Say Polak’, children attend classes in tents or mosques which do not have enough space for all the children of the district especially when it makes it least possible for girls to get an education.

To contribute to this cause, Zardozi Kadars took the initiative to knock on people’s doors and to encourage the families to permit their daughters to go to school and informed them about female teachers availability for their girls since many families are more likely to send their daughters to schools where men are not present. As a result, with the coordination of the community elders, the Kadars signed a petition by the local people and sent it to the Education Department of Heart.

After 7 months of struggles and hurdles, Say Polak has now a school consisting of six classes and 150 male and female students attending the school in different hours of the day. However, this building structure may not suffice the need of 5,000 houses living in the area but it is a small and fundamental step towards development.

One of the Kadars tells us about the difficulties they faced and says, “It is not easy to collect a whole consensus over building a school since most people prioritize other things more than education.  It took us months to spread general awareness and convince people to allow a certain part of their land for school building because government can’t make a school unless the people coordinate.”

Spozhmi who is a resident of the district and also teaches at the school expressed her gratitude to the Kadars: “This is a great step towards development of this country. We are happy we have the Kadars who have always gathered people to promote a good cause which is not always easy especially building a school.”

Who are Kadars?

Kadars are Zardozi’s volunteer members who perform as communication bridge between Zardozi and Nisfe-Jahan’s offices by getting involved in the implementation of Zardozi’s programs, services and activities in the four regions. Zardozi provide several capacity building trainings including business administration to the Kadars in order to prepare them to become the building blocks of their societies and help community members particularly women to engage in civic activities.

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Increasing new sectors: The dry fruits business

Zardozi is bolstering women’s inclusion in Afghanistan’s economy. It is working to ensure that progress made by Afghan women over the past several years advances by helping women work in different formal and informal business sectors.

In Mazar-e-Sharif, a group of women from Zardozi are making an important contribution to the dry fruits economy of the country but their path is not free from challenges and hurdles to be successful. Dry fruits are an important and challenging business for Afghan women. Many of these women are using traditional methods of drying fruits which is in open-air and sun. This has resulted into poor quality and less production which has portrayed a bad image of Afghan women’s dried fruits business both domestically and internationally.

Monisa who is part of the dry fruit start up group says that her family dried the fruits in open air which would become unhygienic due to grit, dirt and insects such as flies. “Zardozi introduced us to new technology and machineries which uses healthier and time consuming techniques to have large income in relatively low-cost,” added Monisa.

After observing Monisa and her group members’ success with the new dry fruits machinery, many other women were also encouraged to work in this sector and demanded Zardozi’s cooperation in acquiring the new technology. Currently Zardozi works with three dry fruit start up groups in Mazar-e-Sharif to guide them on the usage of the machinery. These groups dry meat and fruits and medicine plants from their gardens and cultivations. The dried product has found a good market in the bazaar and national exhibitions as several wholesale buyers have approached the groups with small and big contracts.

Shakila before buying the machineries spoke about her uncertainties regarding starting this business because her old dry fruit business had not attracted good market. “I was still worried about the new machineries and how they will work out, because I saw big loss in the old business using traditional techniques, but this currently technologically oriented business surprised me with the outcome,” exclaimed Shakila.

While talking about the groups’ successes, Kamila told us about her group’s future ambitions:

“Women can do a lot if they are given the right tools. These are the initial small deals that will make our way to international market. We are hoping to export these fruits to neighbor countries as well which will take a very hard work, passion and hiring of more women to achieve the goal.”