The Swiss fair trade organisation Label STEP is stepping up its program to support Afghan weavers and their families help overcome the ongoing challenges their country is facing. Last month, STEP provided more than 1,500 people with monthly food aid rations and a female doctor was hired to provide at-home health care to hundreds of weavers. On International Women’s Day, Label STEP continued its tradition of honouring Afghan women and provided weavers with a rare opportunity to gather and spend some relaxing time together.
The mounting economic instability that Afghanistan has been facing since August 2021 has caused a rapid and significant decline in the living conditions of Afghans. According to Human Rights Watch, over 95% of the country’s households are currently enduring acute food insecurity, which has led to loss of life – particularly amongst youth and aged individuals, who are more susceptible to the effects of malnutrition. These figures demonstrate the dire need for humanitarian assistance to prevent further devastation by meeting basic food needs and protecting people’s livelihoods. Label STEP is thus pleased that, in recent weeks, it has been able to not only resume but expand the scope of its project activities and support initiatives in Afghanistan.
Dire Situation of the Weaving Community in Afghanistan
In early 2022, STEP’s local field team conducted a Livelihood Household Survey across 4 locations around Mazar, Jawzjan and Kabul, which was designed to gauge the current living conditions and needs of our community of weavers and workers. A total of 90 female weavers, ranging from age 15 to 72, were interviewed and the findings were dire. Virtually all respondents worried about having enough food to eat and reported that they often skipped a meal or felt they were eating less than they should. All respondents reported they were unable to eat healthy and nutritious food. Beyond food insecurity, another major issue resulting from the economic hardship is the inability to access medication. Of the 95% of respondents who reported that they or a family member required regular medication, 93% said they were unable to purchase these medicines and 79% stated that they had, at some time, forgone purchasing food in order to afford medication.
STEP’s new food aid program is helping to combat these shortages for at least some families. In February 2022, STEP distributed monthly food rations containing food basics such as flour, rice, and cooking oil to the families of 225 female weavers — benefitting a total of 1,616 individuals overall. This support comes at a critical time for these communities. More than one out of three of these weavers has not had a single carpet order in the last three months. And, since many of these weavers are the main or sole breadwinners of their families, this means their families have had no source of income or earnings. STEP aims to continue and expand the food distribution program in order to support as many weavers as possible.
At-Home Health Care
In addition to the food aid, STEP has been able to not only resume but expand its health care assistance to weavers. In the recent weeks, STEP has hired a full-time, female doctor who visits weavers at their homes to provide them and their family members with free health consultations. This support is particularly critical because in many weaving regions, health services are not available or, in cases where they are, weaver families often cannot afford them.
Celebrating International Women’s Day
Despite the changed realities in Afghanistan, STEP succeeded to keep with a cherished tradition and celebrated International Women’s Day with small groups of weavers on several occasions on and around March, 8 2022. This tradition is a chance to celebrate women as well as a moment to simply relax and spend time with one another. STEP also used these gatherings as an opportunity to distribute health & hygiene kits to more than 250 weavers.
These efforts are making a difference in the lives of weavers, but, in the months to come, the need for aid in Afghanistan is expected to rise.
STEP is committed to continuing and increasing its efforts to support weavers and workers across Afghanistan. However, we require the support of our donors.
To donate to STEP’s humanitarian initiatives in Afghanistan, visit label-step.org/donate/