The World

In Taliban Era, Seamstress Helps Fill Women's Purses

Sunday, April 3, 2011

After the Taliban took control of Afghanistan in 1996, Kamila Sidiqi was housebound, but managed to start a thriving tailoring business. This excerpt from Gayle Tzemach Lemmon's new book, "The Dressmaker of Khair Khana," shares how Sidiqi also helped others

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A New Plan

It wasn't long before the demand for work outpaced the orders Kamila was receiving from shopkeepers. She now received visits almost daily from young women who were trying to help out their families. Most of them were girls whose high school and university studies had been cut short by the Taliban's arrival, but some of them, like Sara, were a bit older.

She didn't know how she was going to find a place for all of them, but she was determined to. With the city's economy shrinking and almost no other chances for women to earn money, how could she turn them away?

As she approached her sister Malika's room to wish her a good night, an idea occurred to Kamila. We are seamstresses, yes, but we are also teachers. Isn't there a way we could use both talents to help even more women? And then those women could help us grow our tailoring business so that there would be more work for everyone.

We should start a school, she thought to herself as she stood in the hallway, or at least a more formal apprenticeship for young women who would learn to sew and embroider with us. We'll teach them valuable skills which they can use here or with other women, and while we're teaching them, we'll be building an in-house team that can help us fill large orders quickly--as many as we can secure.

She stopped in front of Malika's door, lost in her dream. Most of all, she thought, we won't have to turn anyone away. Even the young ones who have no experience and aren't qualified to work yet can join our training program and work for a salary helping us with our orders as soon as they are able. If we have our own school, then no one who comes to our gate will leave without a job.

She had discovered her plan.


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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. In 2004 she left ABC News to earn her MBA at Harvard, where she began writing about women entrepreneurs in conflict and post-conflict zones. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, the Financial Times, Ms. Magazine and she recently wrote the Newsweek cover story on Hillary Clinton. "The Dressmaker of Khair Khana" is her first book. For more on Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, visit:

For more information:

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

Gayle Tzemach Lemmon's Web site:

Santa Barbara Seals Surf School:

Nelscott Reef Classic:

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