AFGHANISTAN. Herat: As one of the key Silk Road passages, Herat has long been a cultural city. Earlier, the city used to be a hub for trades, religions, syncretic philosophies, and technologies. But civil war has ravaged its ancient traditional crafts.
Now, hundreds of women are retaining and promoting the ancient practices and trying to make a living out of them. Breeding silkworms and producing silk fabrics have been an old tradition of Afghanistan’s western city.
Currently, around 750 Afghan women have been working in the factory which is located in the Zinda Jan district of Herat. The women working in the company that produces ‘Herat Women’s Silk’ rear silkworms, feeds them, reaps their cocoons, and spins the yarn by hand.
Reviving their ‘Ancestral Art’
Maryam Sheikh, the head of the company, whose family inherited this craft from their ancestors said, “Our fathers, my grandfathers were breeding this product. I was also familiar with breeding silk since my childhood. And now it’s been five years I have working in this company.”
“This is the work that our ancestors were doing, and I am so happy to be able to do something for it and made a company. We first breed the silkworm, after it transforms to cocoon, we process it and turn it into silk, and after coloring it with natural colors, we make silk shawls/scarves, carbs, silk rugs out of it. And sell them in the city,” she added.
Lack of access to international markets
Due to a low economy, people don’t buy our crafts, and if they do, they will try to bargain and buy the products at a cheap price,” Ms. Sheikh said. She also emphasized that some companies have also bought their crafts at a cheaper price to export them to the international market.
“One of our major problems is the inaccessibility to the international markets,” Sheikh said.
Despite an impoverished part of Herat city, with conservative families who barely let a woman go out home alone, these women are working hard every day. However, due to the full operation of insurgents across the Zinda Jan district, the women come to work with fear and nervousness.
Lack of Afghan government’s attention
Lack of government attention, local markets, internal exhibitions, and security are the major challenges faced by the company. “We still don’t have a right place for the breeding of silkworms,” a woman who works in the factory said. “The government must provide the field of exporting silk production,” Sheikh said.
“For women who can’t get out of home, we provided them knitting workshops in their homes. And those who can, we provided them in the factory,” Ms. Sheikh said.
According to recent data by World Bank, only 22 percent of Afghan women are employed, only a few numbers up from 15 percent in 2001, when the Taliban was toppled by the US-led invasion.
Rehabilitation Association and Agriculture Development for Afghanistan (RAADA) has launched a project offering training and resources aimed to restore the cultural craft of silk making in Afghanistan. Nearly 4,000 women produce silk in the Zinda Jan district of Herat.
The organization first implemented its Women of the Silk Road project in 2014. A training center was established for 1,250 women of the Zindajan district, improving silk rearing, processing, coloring, and weaving.
Nazir Ahmad Ghafoori, head of RAADA said that he hopes to attract more women to Afghanistan’s silk production and wishes to broaden it to other provinces out of Herat.