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The Dressmaker of Khair Khana: Proving the Power of Investing in Women

Economic development efforts focus on women because investing in women improves the world.

Kamila Sidiqi, successful businesswoman and the heroine of The Dressmaker of Khair Khana, dreamed big at a time of desperation. When the Taliban swept through Kabul in September of 1996 girls' lives changed immediately. Overnight, young women like Kamila saw themselves shuttered indoorsOvernight, young women like Kamila saw themselves shuttered indoors, left with no place to go and no options for work and school.

When her father and brother had to leave Kabul for security reasons she found herself at home with five brothers and sisters to support. The teaching skills she learned at her teacher training institute no longer came in handy, since female teachers could no longer work. So she decided to do the one thing still left to women: She picked up a needle and thread and started a dressmaking business in her living room. Using only her own ingenuity and tenacity, she started with one dress and ended up building a business which created jobs and hope for 100 women in her neighborhood. Her business created a lifeline at a desperate time and supported not only her family, but 100 women in her community and the families who relied upon them. Four years after the fall of the Taliban, Kamila had started her own firm called Kaweyan. Kaweyan provides marketing and business trainings for Afghans throughout the country.Kaweyan provides marketing and business trainings for Afghans throughout the country. It teaches aspiring Afghan entrepreneurs how to write a business plan, do a profit-loss analysis, and make a budget.

Entrepreneurship is key to Afghanistan's future because as Kamila explains, "Afghanistan needs business if it is going to keep growing once the foreigners leave." Kamila now works every day to help train the next generation of Afghan entrepreneurs, both men and women. Helping women enter business, especially those women who have never had access to education, improves their lives and changes the family dynamic, because when a woman earns an income, she also earns respect. And she can afford to make certain that both her boys and her girls go to school.

As Kamila's story shows, business possesses the power to create positive change. Businesswomen like Kamila during the Taliban provided one of the few rays of possibility at a time of overwhelming despair. They became entrepreneurs because they had no other choice. They remained entrepreneurs because they saw that business would make the difference for their families, their community, and their country. Women like Kamila deserve our investment. But it is hard to invest in women when we see only victims to be pitied rather than survivors to be respected.

The Dressmaker of Khair Khana proves the power of women and girls to reshape our world. And it shows the true story of just how much women are capable of when it comes to pulling families through impossible times. I hope this book will do its part to change the conversation about women and war and help us to see women as resources worthy of real investment.

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Gayle Tzemach Lemmon is a Fellow and Deputy Director of the Women and Foreign Policy Program at the Council on Foreign Relations. She has written extensively about women entrepreneurs in conflict and post-conflict zones around the world. The Dressmaker of Khair Khana is her first book. She lives in Los Angeles.

Books mentioned in this post

  1. The Dressmaker of Khair Khana: Five... Used Hardcover $8.95

Gayle Tzemach Lemmon is the author of The Dressmaker of Khair Khana: Five Sisters, One Remarkable Family, and the Woman Who Risked Everything to Keep Them Safe

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