As the United States prepares to start its drawdown of troops in Afghanistan, many experts argue that civil society and infrastructure must be strengthened to stabilize the war-torn country. In The Dressmaker of Khair Khana, Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, fellow and deputy director of the Women and Foreign Policy program at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), writes that "war reshapes women's lives and often unexpectedly forces them—unprepared—into the role of breadwinner." She chronicles a community of Afghan women who created an entrepreneurial network, which has become a model for economic development.
While traveling as a journalist in Afghanistan in 2005, Lemmon met twenty-eight-year-old Kamila Sidiqi, whose tailoring business created jobs and hope for women in her neighborhood, Khair Khana, a northern suburb of Kabul. Prohibited under Taliban rule from working, Sidiqi began secretly making dresses in her living room to support her five brothers and sisters. As demand for her work grew, she employed over a hundred women.
Through this narrative, Lemmon underscores the integral role of women in the economic development and social progress of Afghanistan. "Money is power for women," Lemmon quotes Sidiqi. "If women have their own income to bring to the family, they can contribute and make decisions. Their brothers, their husbands, and their entire families will have respect for them. I've seen this again and again. It's so important in Afghanistan because women have always had to ask for money from men. If we can give them some training, and an ability to earn a good salary, then we can change their lives and help their families," Sidiqi says.
Lemmon explains: "We are far more accustomed to seeing Afghan women as victims to be pitied rather than survivors to be respected. The Dressmaker of Khair Khana demonstrates once again the resilience Afghan women have shown in pulling communities through conflict, and that women are among the most reliable allies the United States has in the fight to create a stable, safe, and secure Afghanistan for the future."
Read the introduction and first chapter [PDF] of The Dressmaker of Khair Khana.
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