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news | September 22, 2016 | Afghanistan | Development

Self-Help Groups to support women's livelihoods and empowerment in Northern Afghanistan

ACTED Afghanistan, 2016 - ©Farzana Wahidy

In Balkh province in Northern Afghanistan, ACTED is facilitating and supporting Self-Help Groups that bring together local women to improve income-generating skills, such as tailoring and sewing. The groups share funds and profits to purchase inputs, making them financially sustainable. Through this project funded by the European Union, ACTED is helping women in Northern Afghanistan to hone their skills and sell hand-made products, enabling them to financially support their families.

In Afghanistan, women and girls often have few opportunities for employment or to pursue a livelihood, due to limited resources, under-development, and cultural sensitivities. Throughout the country, ACTED is running several programs to support women’s livelihoods, often through Self-Help Groups. These groups of 20-25 women meet on a regular basis in local communities to develop specific skills, such as tailoring, sewing, carpet-weaving, and handicrafts. ACTED provides each group with a small start-up grant, in addition to training on topics such as bookkeeping, banking, and business practices. By selling the items they make, the women are able to earn a profit to support their families, while also ensuring the group remains financially self-sufficient.

The example of Mariam, head of a tailoring Self-Help Group

Ms. Mariam is the head of a tailoring Self-Help Group, located in the outskirts of the provincial capital of Balkh province, in Northern Afghanistan. The Group was set up through an EU-funded project that has enabled ACTED to engage with the local community for the past two and a half years. When asked about her experience with the Self-Help Group, Ms. Mariam explained, “I am very happy because this year I succeeded in producing clothes with new designs and quality with the help of ACTED’s employees and their efforts by encouraging me that I can do it.” Ms. Mariam comes from near Mazar-e-Sharif, the capital of Balkh province. She is married and has five children - four daughters and one son - as well as one step-daughter, from her husband’s second wife. As her husband and son are unemployed, Ms. Mariam and two of her daughters support the family through tailoring. “That makes me and my daughters responsible for maintaining our family’s needs,” she explains.

Before she joined the ACTED Self-Help Group, Ms. Mariam faced many difficulties in her work because she didn’t have many working sewing machines, couldn’t purchase raw materials, and wasn’t familiar with the local market and local demands.

When she joined the Self-Help Group, she received trainings in market dynamics and business practices, attended an exhibition where she was exposed to new ideas, and ACTED gave the group a grant to purchase tailoring machines and raw materials. Now, she is familiar with the market, local demand, and has contracts with some shops in the city. Ms. Mariam and the group members have also benefitted from literacy and numeracy classes offered through ACTED. Thanks to these classes, the women are now able to record their transactions and keep track of orders and sales.