For many rural women, daily life has not changed much from the Taliban era. They are still dependent on men in their families for permission to access health care, attend school, or work.
Rural poverty has risen to more than 60 percent in recent years. With an over reliance on insecure food crops, many households are pushed to the brink; women can face domestic violence or being sold as brides to feed their families.
“My brother was the only income earner to the family. He worked as a farmer [and] we were not in a good economic condition at all,” said Hawa Gul, a 22-year-old living with her family in a remote village in Afghanistan’s mountainous Bamiyan province.
Hawa was a student and a house cleaner, barely able to finish her degree due to her housework duties.
“I was very ashamed that I was unable to support my family in these hard times. I started to look for a job, but could not get one because women were having less economic opportunities in our village and few women were providing services… I was unable to contribute and this was really hurting me.”
ActionAid’s REALISE program, funded by the Australian Government’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), has supported Afghan women like Hawa to diversify their sources of income and build community resilience to fluctuations in food security.
Hawa was able to train in tailoring and open her own business, with the tools and equipment she needed to start up provided by ActionAid and DFAT.
“I started working as a tailoring service provider in my village in early 2020. With the help and support from REALISE and encouragement by family members I am now a successful business woman in my community and providing tailoring services to people in my village and communities around us.”
After locals heard there was quality tailor in their village, there was no need for them to make the 3-hour journey to the nearest town for clothing. Hawa now fills an average of 18-20 orders a month, earning her a good income to contribute to her family.
“Now my work is well known to people in this community. I receive many orders when there is a festival or a ceremony. In such a time I sew up to 40 pairs of clothes in a month.”
Hawa plans to move to the Bamiyan capital for higher education and will open a second tailoring shop there. She has trained her sister-in-law to take over her village business while she is away studying.
Being able to contribute to the household income has helped women to improve their status in their communities and families with greater decision-making power, better access to facilities and more economic opportunities when compared to five years ago.
Through REALISE, women say they now better understand their rights, roles and responsibilities within households and communities which in turn has increased their freedoms and helped them gain respect in their communities.
She observes a very good positive change in men’s perception towards women and their role within the household and societies, as women are more mobile now and are given rights to participate in every aspect of life in this community.
Hawa says the attitudes of men in her community are also changing as a result of REALISE. Most men (87 percent) were happy about the changes that enable women to make an economic contribution, while almost 60 percent now believe women and men can contribute equally to family income. Almost half now regret preventing women from taking paid work in the past.
Change may be slow to come, but as women like Hawa stand up and claim their economic rights, it empowers more women to do the same and the benefits will be felt by the whole community.