Recently, I got an email from yet another organization that is teaching Afghan women how to make handicrafts and textiles to sell in the West.
And I sighed. Heavily.
I’m not saying that these are bad programs. In fact, I have supported many of them, as a consumer: My husband and I each have a lovely Shalwar Kameez from a shop run by Afghans for Civil Society in Kandahar (here’s him in his; I’m in the burqa), I have a custom-made jacket from AWWSOM Boutique in Kabul that I wore at my wedding reception, I have a custom-made purse from Gundara, and I have lots of items from Ganjini Showroom and various other stores in Kabul. These items are beautiful, they are well-made, and I love showing them off (for more info, see my guide to shopping in Kabul).
HOWEVER, teaching more and more Afghan women how to make purses, shawls, table cloths and other lovely items is not going to lift women out of poverty, nor move them into their proper place in society, because there is not enough of a market for all those products.
Capacity-building programs have to be focused on what is actually needed in a particular community, that are more guaranteed to provide income regularly, long-term. That means programs that teach Afghan women how to:
- raise plants that produce fruit, vegetables, roots, grains, nuts, leaves or sap that can be sold to other Afghans, or exported for sale to Pakistan, Iran, Tajikistan, India or any other adjacent or nearby country
- make preservatives of fruit, veggies, grains or other agricultural products that can be sold to other Afghans, or exported for sale to Pakistan, Iran, Tajikistan, India or any other adjacent or nearby country
- raise chickens, goats, cows, ostriches, sheep or any other animal for its milk, meat or skin
- open and run a small grocery, gas station, copy center, Internet cafe or other much-needed, much-wanted business in the country
- create women-friendly, family-friendly, culturally-appropriate, affordable overnight accommodations
- be midwives
- be nurses or doctors or clinic managers
- be veterinarians, or vet techs
- be elementary or secondary school teachers
- be university professors
- be accountants
- be police officers
- make soccer balls
- engage in any of the procurement or logistics activities needed to sustain any of the above
These are things that local people need, and/or that they want – they are not just that are nice to have.
If you know of a program – local or international, government-run or foreign run or civil society run, whatever – that is teaching Afghan women to engage in income-generation activities that are practical and sustainable, feel free to post names and links in the comments section of this blog.