My name is Zahra*. Growing up, my father worked hard to support our family through his shop. But he still had no fixed source of income, and our lives often felt very unfair.
My older brother thought that it would be better for me to give up my education and tried to keep me from continuing my studies. Both my father and I fought for me to keep going. It was a struggle for us, with our very difficult financial situation. But having the support of my father in my studies in a conservative society made such a big difference in my ability to complete my schooling, and I went on to graduate from a nursing institute.
I was hopeful about my future but finding work was hard.
One day, I heard about Women for Women International’s program it sounded interesting. I wanted to learn more skills, knowledge about my rights, about advocacy, business, enhance my healthcare knowledge, and even maybe learn vocational skills like tailoring.
My new journey began with a new year, on January 1, 2017. Every day, I learned new things, and it had a positive effect on my life. I gained new information in the areas I had hoped and on other important issues I hadn’t considered. I felt more confident and became self-sufficient.
Before I joined the program, I had actually dreamed of being a good tailor. Afterwards, I felt like I could make that dream a reality.
As I neared the end of my year at the Signature Program, one of the trainers approached us with information about the Change Agent program and motivated us to apply. When we finished the Signature Program, 20 eligible women who met the selection criteria and who are nominated by their peers could take advanced advocacy training for three months.
I was chosen to attend the Change Agent program, and I learned much more about our rights as women. I learned about the rights we have in marriage. I learned how to advocate to protect our rights. I learned about defending women from violence, underaged marriage, and how to analyze women’s problems and how to refer them to resources that can solve those problems.
After this training, I hatched a plan. It began with taking a loan from the Village Savings and Loan Association I formed with my classmates in the program. I used the loan to purchase a sewing machine and more equipment. Using all of the different skills I gained through the program, I started my own business, sewing clothes and doing my own marketing. With the support of Women for Women International, I secured a business license.
Gradually, I found and built a market for my products. I made contracts to sell through vendors at the mall. Then it was time to expand: I opened a tailoring center and hired more women.
Now I provide jobs for more than 15 women. Usually, each woman earns 5000 afghani a month, but sometimes we earn more than this.
I’ve seen a change in my community. Women here are growing. We’re growing in our financial situation and violence against women is decreasing. I look at my own family as an example for others of how to practice non-violence and be happy.
Another big positive change is that since Women for Women International opened here, I’ve seen many families allowing their daughters to go to school. They’re finishing their courses, going to university, and getting jobs.
Right now, many women around me feel happy with what we’ve achieved – including myself. Today at 20 years old, I am proud of what I’ve accomplished. I have so much self-esteem and feel self-sufficient. I’m thankful for this program, and extend a special thanks to everyone who has supported me.
* Name has been changed for the safety of the participant