Mask production provides new opportunities for rural women in Afghanistan


Narges Ghafary
UNICEF Afghanistan/2020
26 May 2020

Herat, Afghanistan, 26 May 2020: Wearing a long white gown with a mask on her face, Sima, 28, sits confidently behind a tailoring machine and starts moving meticulously a piece of white fabric under the needle. The sound of the chuka, chuka, chuka has filled out the room as the needle punches through the fabric. She is lost in her work, almost as if she was breathing life into the cloth, which was being made into masks for health care workers at the frontline.

With funding from the EU, UNICEF is working to enhance resilience and self-reliance for the internally displaced, returnees, and their host communities, through the provision of vocational training.

The UNICEF supported ‘Ansari Vocation Training Center’ in Herat, western Afghanistan is where Sima and 600 other women and adolescents, including boys, are learning income generation activities such as beautification, electrical maintenance, mobile repair, motorbike repair, plumbing, carpet weaving, embroidery to become self-reliant.

From a housewife to a mask producer

Sima and her family moved from Golran district to Herat 10 years ago due to poverty. She never attended school and didn’t have a chance to learn a new skill. She came to know about the center from her 12-year-old son, Nasir. Nasir had to stop going to school as the family could no longer afford it. He was selling vegetables on the streets to help make ends meet for the family.

‘An opportunity can indeed arise out of the crisis’ as argued by a recent article from UN women. This is indeed true for Sima and her classmates in Ansari vocational Training centre. Due to the huge demand for protective gears for health workers in Herat, an epicenter of Covid 19, Sima and her colleagues became the lucky ones to be selected as a centre to supply masks for health workers.

“We are about to sign a contract with one of the private companies in Herat to produce one million masks,” says Sima’s instructor.

Sima and her classmates, will be producing the masks, and they will receive 1.5 Afs (Afgahnsitan currency) equivalent to US$0.1 per piece. “I will earn 400 Afs, close to US$6 per day and produce around 300 masks,” Sima says with a smile. “If I can earn that money, my son wouldn’t have to work again in the street,” she adds.

As part of the support to vulnerable families during COVID19, Sima and other students receive 2500 Afs (US$33) per month to buy food supplies for their families. They will also receive the necessary supplies and tools to enable them to work from home and continue making an income.

making -mask
UNICEF Afghanistan/2020

Beyond a business

But for most of the women coming to the center, it isn’t only learning a new skill, but an opportunity to go out of the house, chat and laugh with her classmates at the center. “I didn’t have this opportunity before, and most of the time, I was at home. In here, time flies so quickly.  Coming here, helps me emotionally.  I get to be around other women and it’s a place where I can relax.”

Fatima and her colleagues at the Center have also been oriented about COVID19, positive parenting and children rights.

She is thankful for this UNICEF supported initiative, empowering the forgotten community members, especially women. “UNICEF has provided me with supplies, equipment, and skill. I can now make an income and continue sending my children to school with the hope of a better future.