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An Unlikely Breadwinner Under the Taliban

Interviewee: Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, CFR Fellow and Deputy Director of the Women and Foreign Policy Program, CFR
Interviewer: Deborah Jerome, Deputy Editor, CFR.org
April 6, 2011

The untold story of women during wartime is not their victimhood but their "bravery and valor"--the hurdles they will jump to help get their families through the war, says CFR's Gayle Tzemach Lemmon. On assignment for the Financial Times in 2005, Lemmon found just such a story when she went to Afghanistan and met Kamela Sidiqi. She was a young woman from the neighborhood of Khair Khana in northern Kabul who had built a thriving dressmaking business during the Taliban period. Sidiqi's enterprise not only sustained her family but gave work--and sustenance--to a hundred other women in Khair Khana. It also led to Lemmon's new book, The Dressmaker of Khair Khana: Five Sisters, One Remarkable Family, and the Woman Who Risked Everything to Save Them.

The lesson Lemmon drew from Sidiqi's story was this: The international community should be doing more to invest in women like those of Khair Khana, and the usual narrative of women as victims in war doesn't do women justice. "It's hard to invest in a victim," says Lemmon.

Lemmon expresses concern about the fate of women in Afghanistan, where there has been talk of rolling back hard-won advances as the government of Hamid Karzai negotiates with the Taliban. "These women are our allies in creating a more stable Afghanistan," Lemmon says. "The question is what happens when [U.S. troops] leave."


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