There is no greater multiplier in the fight against poverty than an educated female.
This is something which Kamila Sidiqi, The Dressmaker of Khair Khana, learned from her father. A former army officer in Afghanistan, Mr. Sidiqi had nine girls and two boys and made certain that each and every one of them was educated.
This education proved to be a lifeline during the Taliban years in Afghanistan, when all avenues to women's work were closed overnight. Using only her grit, determination, and education, Kamila started a dressmaking business in her living room, which went on to create jobs and hope for 100 women in her Kabul neighborhood. At a time of desperation, they discovered hope and community.
Her story is told for the first time in The Dressmaker of Khair Khana, a story that celebrates the unsung heroines all around the world who pull families through impossible times.
As The Dressmaker of Khair Khana demonstrates, men in Afghanistan champion girls' education every day. Mr. Sidiqi believed it was his highest duty of faith to educate his children, so that they could share their knowledge and serve their communities. As he explained to me during my visits with the Sidiqi family, he was determined that all his children — the nine girls as well as the two boys — enjoy the privilege of school. As he said often, "I look on all my children with one eye." And he did not distinguish between his sons and daughters when it came to the duties of the classroom. To Mr. Sidiqi, investing in the education of his girls was an investment in his family, their future, and the future of his country. He, like so many other Afghan men, was devastated when the Taliban closed girls' schools and forced women inside.
Despite the attempts of the Taliban to stop women's education, brave heroines like Kamila Sidiqi fought back while staying within the rules. They established underground schools to educate women and girls, no matter what the consequences. And Kamila's business created training and work for dozens of girls in her neighborhood alone.
With the fall of the Taliban, the Afghan people and the international community focused on improving education. Now 2.4 million girls in Afghanistan are enrolled in school as compared to 5,000 in 2001. But education for women and girls is being threatened yet again. Girls going to school face acid attacks and the threat of destruction every time they reach the classroom. And yet their hunger to learn makes them brave the risks they confront, just as Kamila braved the risks she faced during the Taliban era, in which she kept working because she knew her family and her community counted on her.
Now more than ever the international community must continue to increase investments in the women and girls of Afghanistan. The Afghan people will not give up the fight for women's and girls' education, and the international community should remember their strength — and the strength of men and women like Mr. Sidiqi and Kamila. As Manizha Naderi, founder of Women for Afghan Women explains, history has shown that girls in Afganistan are "hungry for education," and they will continue fighting for it.
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