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The sewing circle of Helmand

July 1, 2011

“Women have had to endure so much, but through education they are giving back to their communities, providing an income for their families and now they don’t have to struggle, they have a voice”.

In a small room the steady clack clack of sewing machines drift out amongst the gentle chatter of women as they sew together brightly coloured dresses and garments.  The women are taking part in one of their regular sewing classes held in the Department of Women’s Affairs (DoWA) in Lashkar Gah.

Local Afghan women taking part in a sewing class in Lashkar Gah. The women have travelled from their family homes around the district to take part in the classes. Photo: Sgt Ali Baskerville RLC. Crown Copyright/MOD 2011

When President Hamid Karzai came to power, DoWA was established within the Ministry of Women’s Affairs to promote the understanding of the legal rights of women in the country, and to provide support to the women.

One of two facilities, the other located in Gereshk, the office in Lashkar Gah city is headed up by two local women; Jamila and Soleikha, and mentored by the UK Helmand Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT). These centres are busy helping the women of their cities get educated, ensuring their legal rights are represented and working with the communities in which they live to resolve issues.

“Women are part of the community and this country which is why someone needs to stand up for them” says Soleikha.

Both women are in their fifties and were educated before the Taliban came to power. Jamila was a teacher, a graduate of Kabul University and has now been the director of the centre for 9 years. “We had nothing when we started, not even chairs to sit on” now she gestures to show off her carpeted office with its modern computer, garden outside and the sounds drifting in the door of women taking literacy classes

Over the past 3 years the improvement in security in Helmand has helped bring about a notable but to date un-recognised change. Whilst ISAF Forces concentrate on driving out insurgents from the larger populated areas of the Helmand River, the population in the recovered areas slowly but surely regain confidence to conduct a normal civilian life.

This growing in confidence has led to a change in the lives of the women of the region. To date most reporting on the women has been centred on the harsh lives they live where they cannot leave their homes, are often denied medical care and beaten by husbands.

The sewing circle at Lashkar Gah. Photo: Sgt Ali Baskerville RLC. Crown Copyright/MOD 2011

In remote districts, where Afghan Government departments still struggle to reach the population and local customs dominate the lives of inhabitants, the reports still hold true. But in the urban cities of Lashkar Gah and Gereshk, where security has dramatically improved, women now have the freedom to go about the city unaccompanied, attend schools, learn new vocational skills, work in Government departments and the ANSF. This is the face of the emerging Afghanistan in its process of transition.

Jamila and Soleikha’s sisters-in-arms are the four female prominent members of the Provincial Council; together they form a strong and confident group with voices that are heard from the upper levels of local governance to the meetings with community elders in the districts they can get to.

“Women have had to endure so much, but through education they are giving back to their communities, providing an income for their families and now they don’t have to struggle, they have a voice”.

One Comment leave one →
  1. July 3, 2011 19:55

    hi i run knitting for heroes but also sow we have all got new sowing machine old ones are just sat in my shed in storage but would love to donate them but not sure if you can use them as electric & 2 how to get them to you as i live in Oxfordshire such a shame to see these great sowing machines sat in shed we all got new ones donated to us by firm to help us with our forces charity work really hope you can take them as just simple ones some are little battery operated ones but i doubt you can use them but keep up good work & we are also knitting kids beanies for troops to hand out during winter as last year few of my pen pals asked if i could they were well

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