Women at work: breaking social barriers in Afghanistan | Asia| An in-depth look at news from across the continent | DW | 24.11.2011
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Women at work: breaking social barriers in Afghanistan

Just until a few years ago, Zulfia did not have any option other than giving up her studies and staying at home in Kabul. Now, with the help of NAZO, a German organization she teaches young women to become independent.

A handicraft exhibition of Afghan jewelry in Stuttgart, Germany

Women in Afghanistan are slowly becoming financially independent

21-year-old Zulfia says, "I couldn’t keep going on with my education due to financial problems, so I had to stay home. At first I was not so courageous. I had nothing to say. My social contacts were few. I was a shy girl. But I was interested in working outside my home."

Atifa Mansori, the head of Afghanistan’s business union in Herat says: "Due to the traditional discrimination against women and the country’s current social, political, cultural and economic condition, women have less job opportunities. Few are allowed to work outside their homes."

Now, Zulfia is one of the hundred women who have received training by NAZO, a German organization which trains Afghan women in arts and crafts. "We are happy, "she says, adding that "Afghan women have more freedom now and can be active members of society.

Victims of violence

But nearly ten years ago, after the "war against terror" began in Afghanistan, women were still suffering the aftermath of Taliban repression and the destruction the war had caused. In 2002, Elke Jonigkeit-Kaminski, a German film maker went to visit the country she had filmed many times before: "I have been making films since 1985 on women in Afghanistan.

In 2002 I left for Afghanistan to find the women who were a part of my films before. I met three of them again. When I came back I founded NAZO here in Germany with a branch in Afghanistan with the help of these women who were part of my films." Jonigkeit-Kaminski has directed films such as "The women of Kabul - stars in a burning sky."

Niyazi receives an award from the Afghan Ministry for Women's Affairs

Marina Niyazi has been instrumental in NAZO's success

NAZO was given initial financial aid of 150,000 Euros by the German Ministry of Economic Cooperation (BMZ). The training began in 2004. More than 500 hundred women have now been trained in different fields such as jewelry, textile and leather designing in the last seven years. The NAZO center also offers counseling on legal and family planning issues. NAZO has four centers and representatives in Afghanistan in Scheweki, Karte Nau, Kamari and a new center in Ahmad Shah Baba Mina.

Financial independence counts

"I had heard about the establishment of the NAZO center. I read commercials and job opportunities where I was living. It was great news. I talked with my family regarding the job and trainings. I found it really useful because it had lots of benefits and privileges for women," says Zulfia, who signed up for jewelry designing. In the course of 18 months, she learned how to design jewelry and engrave gemstones. Now, she works as a trainer in one of the centers. "I run a class with 15 trainees. I am very well paid. I am independent and I can meet my needs as well as those of my family, she says."

However, organizations such as NAZO also face several difficulties when it comes to implementing their projects. Jonigkeit-Kaminski says, "The women of these villages have a hard life because the village has been exposed to war. We help them with money and advice but the actual work is done by women working in this area, especially when it comes to getting cooperation from the Mullah in the village or the mayor or the people from the intelligence agencies. "

Schmuck aus Afghanistan

Jewelry made by women trained by the NAZO

Problems and prospects

Mansori, who is now leading a group comprising several businesses, is trying to resolve such issues by promoting cooperation between organizations, although she does have her doubts. She believes that short-term donor support is one of the greatest challenges to business in Afghanistan because the country does not have too many opportunities for vocational training and capacity building.

In addition, the government departments for women’s affairs also do not encourage such activities as much as they ought to. Afghan products are usually not of a very high quality, because of which publicity suffers, she says.

However, there have been enough successes to encourage Mansori and organizations like NAZO to move forward. Mansori has successfully established the Khadijatul Kobra business center in Herat and has organized 13 exhibitions of Afghan handicrafts in India, Tajikistan, Kabul, Herat and Mazar-e-Sharif.

NAZO has also held exhibitions and won an award from the Afghan women’s affairs ministry. The products are sold both nationally and internationally. Marina Niyazi, the head of the center in Kabul says, "Women have become a lot more independent. Our project covers needy women and women who don’t have access to all facilities living in rural areas and suburbs."

Zulfia’s life has now changed for the better. She says, "The very first change is that I could go to a private school. I used to go there after work and pay for my studies. I have now graduated."

Author: Tamana Jamily
Editor: Manasi Gopalakrishnan