A project funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) is putting Afghanistan’s traditional rug industry back into the hands of Afghan weavers. This project, based in Kabul, aims to grow Afghanistan’s economy and empower women.
The nine-million-dollar project, run by Rob Leahy in South Carolina, acts as the ‘middle man’ between Afghan weavers and the international rug market. The project does so by ensuring families have the resources to make the rugs and connecting weavers to international financial markets. Leahy states that “The hope is they (Afghanistan’s residents) will make rugs not war…It sounds trite, but it’s as simple as that.”
She states that rug making is a critical part of Afghanistan’s economic growth strategy. “It’s something that all those people can do in their houses.”
Handwoven rug production is a family affair in Afghanistan: the men gather the materials and the women weave. Much of the weaving takes place in the home, allowing women and girls to take care of their families while working. In a society that has historically hindered women’s ability to work, the Afghan carpet industry offers a workplace for women and promotes financial empowerment, as well as creativity and stability. Habibyar’s hope is to recreate an Afghan rug industry strong enough to continue after USAID funding ends.
Since the Soviet invasion in the late 1970s, Afghan rugs have been outsourced to Pakistan. This has decreased the share of profit that goes to female Afghan weavers and the credibility of Afghan rugs because they are often labeled as Pakistani rugs. Handwoven rugs are one of Afghanistan’s largest exports, so this project aims to bring the supply chain back to Afghanistan and to directly connect female weavers with international consumers, with whom they otherwise may have had difficulty connecting with.
Handwoven rugs in Afghanistan reflect the culture, creativity, and pride found in the country and an industry that has persevered through the country’s many conflicts. According to Najila Habibyar, “It’s something that all those people can do in their houses.” Rather than just doing house chores, women can generate income from within their homes. Such an opportunity provides them with opportunities to grow professionally and feel more independent.
Sources: The Post and Courier 6/20/20; Reuters 5/19/20; Reuters 4/12/18; OEC 6/29/20Aljazeera 1/29/15