In Afghanistan, women and girls often have few opportunities to work or develop a livelihood. Self-help groups bring together local women who meet on a regular basis in local communities to improve income-generating skills, such as tailoring and sewing, carpet-weaving and handicrafts.
My name is Amina*. I am 22 years old and my parents’ only child. When I was three years old my father died and my mother, uncle and I went to Iran where we lived with my uncle’s family.
Life was very difficult there for my mother and I. Although I was very young we were weaving carpets from morning to evening to find a little income for my education. I was very eager to learn.
Life was very hard without a father. My mother was trying to be a mother and a father to me. My father’s brothers were in Afghanistan and called us many times to return to Afghanistan.
After 15 years in Iran we went back to Afghanistan. Life here was very difficult. One of my uncles forced my mother to marry one of his sons and they also forced me to marry another son - I was very afraid that if I did not comply they would separate me from my mother. I did not have a choice, because all I had was my mother. My mother married first and then I got engaged to my uncle’s son. I asked my husband-to-be to allow me to continue with my studies - which he did.
There was a self-help group (SHG) meeting in my aunt’s house. I joined the group and took on the responsibility as the bookkeeper. After a while I became a Cluster Level Association facilitator, too.
At the beginning, it was very difficult for me to work with women. I felt shy and was afraid of being around them and having to talk to them. But the women in the group helped me and encouraged me. I gained a little courage and grew in confidence. Eventually I was able to run the group very well. I spent the money, which I took as a loan, on my education.
I’d never started a small business before, but I tried to be strong and was encouraged by the results of my work.
After a while, with the advice of the members, I took another loan from the group. I bought lingerie (female underwear and brassieres). I brought it to the group, meeting the needs of the women in the area. Initially it seemed very difficult as I’d never started a small business before and I had no experience of running one. But I tried to be strong and saw the results of my work. After I finished paying my loan I took another loan from the group. I bought more quantities than I had the first time and I sold it all to neighbours and group members.
Because it was going well I thought ‘Why not start a shop?’. So I rented a room from a neighbour and began to run my own shop. I went to school in the mornings and in the afternoons sat in my shop. Not many people were coming to my shop so I talked with a lady who was a tailor and a member of the group. I asked her to come and sit in my shop and sew her clothes there and I learnt tailoring from her. We continued our business like this with the help of each other.
I got married two years ago, finished my lessons and graduated from the 12th grade. I also completed the required exam to access higher education, so hopefully I will be able to continue to a degree soon, once my son is older.
I am very satisfied and happy with the group. With the income from my shop I manage to support myself and family. I also help my group members to sell their handicrafts and other products such as pickles, fruit jam and embroidery, which are displayed in my shop.
*Name changed to protect the author’s identity.