Afghan Tailors Flee to Pakistan After Ban on Stitching Women’s Clothing
By Ashfaq Yusufzai
Afghan Women refugees undergoing sewing and embroidery training in Peshawar, Pakistan. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS
“I had my shop in Afghanistan but came here after the Taliban’s warning against stitching women’s clothes. Now, I am working on daily wages in a shop owned by a local tailor master,” Noor Wali, 32, told IPS.
Wali, a resident of Jalalabad province, said that a new order by the Taliban’s vice and virtue authority, male tailors, have been barred from making garments for women in Kabul.
“The order has landed the majority of the male tailors, who have no other option except to leave the country or stay idle and resort to begging,” Wali, a father of three, said.
Before the Taliban takeover in August 2021, he said it was common practice all over Afghanistan that males stitched women’s garments. The male tailors who used to make only women’s garments are the worst hit as the order has made them virtually jobless.
Sharif Gul’s story is no different from Wali’s. Gul, 41, arrived in Peshawar, located close to the Afghan border, and started work at Rs1,500 (about USD 6) per day with a local tailor. “I used to earn at least Rs6,000 (about USD 21) back home and over Rs15,000 a day (about USD 52) in Ramzan (Ramadan) because the people wear new clothes on Eid al-Fitr,” he said.
Eid al-Fitr is celebrated at the end of Ramzan-one month of fasting, and all people stitch new clothes for the festivity.
“A great loss to us. We have been appealing to the Taliban to take pity on us, but they were not receptive to our requests,” Gul said.
Tailor said the order would have a major impact on them financially as many tailor shops cater only to female customers.
Naseer Shah is another Afghan hit hard by the Taliban’s ban on sewing women’s garments. Shah, 39, who migrated to Peshawar last month along with his wife, three sons, and daughter, works as a daily wager with a Pakistani tailor.
“I earn Rs3,000 (about USD 10) a day. My income used to be around Rs10,000 (about UDS 35) during this month of Ramzan. I have been making women’s garments for more than 15 years,” he explains. Most Kabul-based workers have stopped stitching female dresses and started dealing in men’s clothing, but they receive fewer customers.
So he didn’t have to resort to begging; they moved to Pakistan, he said.
Taliban government has already banned women’s education after coming to power. A week ago, they asked women to stop working in UN offices, likely impacting women’s development, healthcare, and population control in the militia-ruled violence-stricken country.
Hussain Ahmad, 50, an Afghan tailor who migrated to Pakistan 30 years ago, told IPS that the influx of Afghan tailors has been problematic because they don’t find lucrative work here.
“We have hired three tailors who came recently after the Taliban’s ban. We have workload in Ramzan, but after Eid al-Fitr, we wouldn’t need their services, and they will be unemployed,” said Hussain, who owns a shop in Muhajir (refugee) Bazaar, in Peshawar, the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, located near the Afghan border.
Hussain said the people feared the Taliban for their harsh punishments. “Those arriving here recall how Taliban’s police warned them if they didn’t stop taking women’s garments,” he said.
Ikramullah Shah, an economics teacher, who taught at Kabul University, told IPS that he quit his job because of the ban on women’s education.
“We are here, and my two daughters are studying in private schools here. I want to educate my daughters at any cost,” Shah said. “I have been teaching in two Afghan schools as a part-timer to earn for my family.”
Most of the women who owned dressmaking shops have stopped working after the Taliban’s instructions, he said. Some women tailors had very big shops where they had recruited male and female tailors, but now all have to close shops and work from home.
Among the refugees is Naseema Shah, an Afghan woman who says she will soon start stitching women’s dresses for women in Peshawar. Naseema, 30, is one of 20 Afghan women nearing completion of month-long training in Peshawar, supported by the German Agency for International Cooperation (GIZ).
Dr Samir Khan, a political analyst, told IPS that the Taliban have been facing tremendous pressure from the international community, including the UN, to change their attitude towards women, but the situation remained unchanged.
“We have been listening to news about the ban of women students, workers, and tailors sewing female dresses, which is unacceptable in a civilized society,” he said.
Taliban should do some soul-searching and try to become part of the global efforts and work for women’s development, he said.
“How can the Taliban put the war-devastated country on the path of progress when they disallow women (half of the country’s population) to work,” he said.
Pakistan is an Islamic country where women enjoy equal rights, he said.
He said that women are neither taking part in social activities nor allowed to go to school and work, which is regrettable. The past 16 months since the Taliban came to power have been tough on women.
Sajida Babi, an Afghan teacher in Peshawar that women have been at the receiving end of the Taliban’s ruthlessness. “There are strict dress codes for women who are required to wear an all-encompassing veil while in the market,” Bibi, 55, said. “In my country, women cannot go to schools or parks for entertainment, and they cannot travel without being accompanied by a man, which reminds one of the Stone Age.”
IPS UN Bureau Report
This post first appeared on IPS News.