Mazar-e Sharif, Afghanistan — March 8, 2017: For the first time, close to 300 women carpet weavers from villages near Mazar-e Sharif gathered together in a public venue for an International Women’s Day celebration held in their honour. The event was held on March 3 by fair trade organization Label STEP.
“It is very rare for the women to be invited to such an event in a public place. Seldom do they, along with so many of their colleagues, receive public recognition for the weaving work they do at home,” said Reto Aschwanden, Managing Director of Label STEP, a NGO that was been working to ensure fair trade practices in the carpet industry since 1995. “We wanted to honour these women for their weaving skills and for the contribution they make to their families and communities as well as the important contribution they make to local economic development.”
Held at Kahlid Bin Walid Park, dozens of women gathered for the celebratory picnic. Label STEP Audit Officer Diana Hashimzada and Shala Hadeed, Head of the Directorate of Women’s Affairs, gave short congratulatory speeches, and a colourful STEP-inspired cake was cut. Afghan women weavers work extremely hard running their households and using every free minute to work at their looms, so it was a very special opportunity for them to enjoy a day of leisure. Mrs. Khadkja from Balkh Baston village said, “It was the first time in my life that I have heard about International Women’s Day and the first time that I have participated in such a ceremony.”
Some of the weavers are part of a larger endeavour organized by Label STEP, its partner organization Turquoise Mountain and UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency. It joins together refugee women and women from the host community. The women weave kilims (flat woven rugs) and kilim products such as cushions. As a UNHCR MADE51 project, refugee artisans are then connected with global markets to sell their products.
“At Label STEP, our overall aim is to improve the working and living conditions of weavers and their families in the handmade carpet industry,” said Aschwanden. “This includes helping to empower women to be more informed, independent players. Our team helps to educate them on a broad range of topics—from workplace health and safety to collective bargaining and women’s rights. On International Women’s Day, we are happy to join in celebrating their achievements and will continue to #PressforProgress.”