Afghan Dressmaker Helps Inspire Other Start-ups

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Journalist Gayle Tzemach Lemmon arrived in Afghanistan in 2005. She had come to Kabul on an assignment to write an article for the Financial Times about local women entrepreneurs who emerged when the Taliban took control of the city in 1996.

Lemmon was not a novice at covering women in war zones. She had worked in Bosnia and Rwanda reporting on female entrepreneurs in post-conflict counties.

But in Afghanistan, Lemmon was “a first-timer.” When she met her interview subject, she realized the story of this particular Afghan woman deserved more than 1,500 words of a newspaper article. The article became a book based on the true story of Kamila Sidiqi — “The Dressmaker of Khair Khana.”

Sidiqi was only 19 when the Taliban began to impose their brutal regime in Kabul, banning women from schools, prohibiting them to work outside the home or to leave the house without a full cover, the chadri, and a male relative, the mahram. Sidiqi’s father and brother fled Kabul in fear of being targeted by the Taliban. Sidiqi was left alone to care for her siblings with no means to provide for them.

Despite the circumstances, Sidiqi became a successful entrepreneur and role model.

“She was successful because she refused to give up. She was determined to make a difference, to improve conditions for her family and her community. And she, just like other women like her, did impossible things at an impossible time,” said Lemmon.

Sidiqi’s older sister taught her to sew. Her brother accompanied her on trips to the local clothing shops, where she offered her products to the shop owners. Her younger sisters joined the workshop and helped her fulfill the growing orders. Her operation expanded, bringing in other girls and women from the neighborhood who were desperate for work.

Collectively, they developed training classes, quality control and a strict schedule in order to avoid drawing the Taliban’s attention to their large gatherings inside the house.

Source: PBS Newshour (link opens in a new window)

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