In the face of restrictions on women working and record unemployment in Afghanistan, British-Afghan designer Marina Khan has embarked on a mission to employ more female artisans in the country. Khan, the founder of the clothing and jewelry brand Avizeh, has long desired to work with Afghan women, but barriers and societal constraints have hindered direct collaboration. However, the recent restrictions imposed by the Taliban-led government have added a sense of urgency to her efforts.
The Taliban's directives limiting women's activities, including instructing female public sector workers to stay at home, have severely curtailed the employment prospects of women in Afghanistan. Combined with the economic downturn and job losses due to international sanctions and reduced aid, the country faces immense challenges. The situation has led to a decline in sales for artisans reliant on affluent Afghan buyers, and many private sector workers are struggling to find employment.
Despite these obstacles, Afghan women continue to demonstrate their resilience and craftsmanship. Khan, realizing the potential to empower female artisans, has started collaborating with male artisans in Afghanistan since she launched Avizeh in 2014. However, she acknowledges the need to connect directly with Afghan women known for their hand embroidery and beading work, which has been a complex endeavor due to societal norms and gender dynamics.
To address this issue, Khan has begun tapping into the talent of Pakistani female artisans, including Afghan refugees residing in Pakistan. By providing opportunities for these women to support their families in both countries, Khan aims to uplift their economic status and unleash their creative potential. Despite their own challenges, including caring for disabled children and financial hardships, these women are determined to make a living through their craftsmanship.
Khan's international customer base has been instrumental in sustaining her sales, as buyers eagerly support Afghan artisans, particularly women. When she announced her initiative in April, Khan received overwhelming support and inquiries about how customers can help the 45 women artisans based in Quetta. The pricing of Avizeh's products, such as dresses featuring hand sewing and embroidery, ensures that the craftswomen earn significantly more than their male counterparts.
In her endeavor to expand opportunities for female entrepreneurs and artisans, Khan is partnering with the UK-based charity Mothers of Afghanistan. Together, they aim to establish partnerships with women in various Afghan provinces, where sewing schools run by the organization could eventually produce products for Avizeh. This collaboration seeks to connect smaller local businesses to high-end enterprises, leveraging Khan's international network and customer base.
However, reaching women, especially those in rural areas, remains a challenge. Limited access to mobile phones and social media inhibits direct interaction with potential customers. Many women in provinces like Herat and Kandahar spend weeks or even months meticulously stitching intricate embroidery onto traditional menswear. Yet, due to a lack of bargaining power, men often sell these pieces for exorbitant prices, leaving the women who crafted them with minimal earnings.
By cutting out the middleman, Khan aims to empower female artisans by directly connecting with them. Through social media platforms, she managed to establish contact with 45 Afghan and Pakistani women in Quetta. These efforts not only promote economic empowerment but also challenge the patriarchal norms that have hindered women's progress in the Afghan workforce.
The dedication and passion of Afghan women to work and create, even in the face of severe restrictions, illustrate their resilience and desire to contribute to society. As local and international companies support ventures that enable talented women to reach their full potential, these initiatives align with the vision of a global society committed to sustainability and the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The empowerment of Afghan women through the fashion and crafts industry contributes to SDG 5 (Gender Equality) and SDG 8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth). Moreover, the collaborations fostered by Marina Khan and her partners exemplify the role of civil society in driving sustainable development and advocating for inclusive economic opportunities.
As Afghanistan grapples with ongoing challenges, the determination and creativity of its women artisans offer hope for a brighter and more equitable future. By supporting their endeavors, the global community can contribute to the creation of a sustainable and inclusive society for all.
More information: https://www.avizeh.co.uk
Podcast credits: https://podcasts.apple.com/