Tinker, tailor, programmer: Entrepreneurship is subverting gender in Afghanistan

Youth Skills

Tinker, tailor, programmer: Entrepreneurship is subverting gender in Afghanistan

Women in Helman province, Afghanistan, learn computer skills as part of Mercy Corps' "INVEST" program. Photo: Toni Greaves for Mercy Corps.

In southern Afghanistan, the promise of a well-paid urban career is luring women to keyboards and men to needlework.

INVEST, a vocational training program by Mercy Corps in Helmand Province, teaches men and women trades that can lead them out of poverty. Only 28 percent of the adult Afghan population is literate, and most children can’t attend school due to either the rigidly conservative society or safety concerns. INVEST trains locals in various trades, from construction to calligraphy to mobile phone repair to sewing. So far, INVEST has enrolled nearly 9,000 students, 900 of them women.

Program organizers assumed male students in Lashkar Gah, a city of more than 200,000, would vie for construction jobs such as masonry and metal work. But some, such as former farmer Agha Wali, have chosen less stereotypically male occupations such as tailoring because it offers a chance to own their own business. Many women, on the flip side, have bypassed home-based occupations such as embroidery and embraced the tech sector.

While older students are learning skills to work from home and don’t expect office jobs due to societal constraints, the younger generation aims to forge a career path, even the women. Some liberal-minded parents are happily sending their daughters to the school. Twenty-year-old Shamsiya’s parents have encouraged her passion for learning. She hopes to one day become a computer teacher.

I want to serve my country so that our country has a good future as its future depends on us youngsters,” she told Mercy Corps. “When I go home, my parents encourage me to study and attend my lectures...every member of the society should have knowledge as through knowledge, we can solve all our problems.

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