Our classes for Afghan women not only provide them with literacy and vocations. They offer a rare chance to leave the home and socialise – an opportunity that shouldn’t be underestimated.
Just 17% of women in Afghanistan are literate. The many who missed out on schooling as girls now find themselves unable to support their children’s education or work.
Our main goal when setting up education centres in Kabul was to get out-of-school children into education and to help them keep learning. It soon became apparent that these centres were well-placed to help the mothers of these children too.
Our literacy classes teach women to read and write for the first time. This can mean the world to them. Many of the women we work with see the benefit of their new-found literacy in the effect that it has on their children’s lives. They recount with pride that they’re now teaching their young daughters to read and write at home or helping their children who are struggling at school.
For women whose movements out of the home are so restricted, tailoring is a skill that viable home-run businesses can be built around. They make clothes which are sold in local bazars, generating income for their family and freeing up their working children to attend school.
Our students start by honing their cutting skills using old newspapers. By the end of their six-month course they’re sewing clothes for their families or for selling.
Paying for family medical emergencies, buying school uniforms, putting food on the table – these are some of the ways that women from our savings & loans groups have told us that they put their precious savings to use.
But being able to save money as an Afghan woman has more benefits than the immediately obvious. Being able to bring money into the household earns the woman more respect at home and a say in decision making. These attitudinal changes could well seem small to us, but to these women they’re a breakthrough.
These groups also help women build home-based businesses. Graduates of our tailoring classes have been able to take small loans from their fellow savers to buy a sewing machine or fabric and get fledgling tailoring businesses up and running. Others have started confectionary or candle-making businesses. It’s heart-warming to see such entrepreneurship budding from our education centres.
Home life for the women at our centres can be lonely and isolated. Traditional, conservative attitudes within their communities dictate that they should remain at home. They are not allowed to venture out unaccompanied by a male relative.
Our Afghan colleagues work closely with community members to build trust in our education centres and the classes we’re offering women.
A wonderful effect of the classes and savings groups at our centres is that they bring women together in a safe male-free environment. They can chat, share problems and support each other. Friendships are formed and fledgling business planned. This is the power of giving women a chance to speak.