Meet the Afghan Women Behind Durkhanum: Kabul Sewing Circle, A Grassroots Program Training Seamstresses

Since the takeover of Kabul, Afghan women and girls in the country have been prohibited from continuing their careers and education. Because of this, combined with an economic crisis, many have had to search for alternatives to make ends meet. For the women of the Durkhanum: Kabul Sewing Circle, the answer is sisterhood.

When the capitol fell in August, Mina Sharif, an Afghan activist and media producer based in Canada, feared for a fellow activist in Afghanistan, whose name she does not use in order to protect her safety. Sharif helped plan a safe exit for her friend, hoping she could leave the country and avoid the risk of being targeted.

At the same time, though, Sharif’s friend worried about those who would be left behind in Afghanistan. She had previously employed women through her custodial business, but they could no longer make a living cleaning as many homes and offices, and shops had closed their doors amid the chaos. These women, many of them widows or members of a minority group, were the primary breadwinners for their families.

“We literally got her on an evacuation emergency flight,” Sharif tells Teen Vogue about her activist friend. “She got to the airport, [but] she didn’t end up getting on the plane. She didn’t feel comfortable leaving the country while these women were left in this condition.”

Sharif’s friend remained in Afghanistan and told Sharif about her idea to help the women. Based on a previous decree that prohibited tailors from serving clients of the opposite sex, she wondered if the same rules would again be enforced and expected a shortage of women tailors. Using this as a starting point, she imagined a program that would teach women to sew and run their own businesses from the safety of their homes. She originally intended to run the program for her former employees, but word spread and other women asked to join as both organizers and students.

“I did volunteer to help her raise these funds,” Sharif says. “I’m saying that not for my benefit [or] to tell you that I volunteered, but to say that she didn’t even ask me for that.” Sharif adds, “She didn’t say, ‘Let’s go get money from the west.’ I said, ‘You can’t do that all by yourself. How are you going to pay for it? Let me help. Let’s do a link.’”

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