Dawlatabad District Women’s Soap Making Group
The Dawlatabad Women’s Soap Making Group is a women-led organization; it was established by the REALISE project under AACRS in 2016. Four women, including Khatera (the storyteller), were trained on soap production by the REALISE project, and thereafter they continued to produce and sell soap in the local market. This business provides income to around 26 community women in the centre of Dawlatabad district in Balkh province.
Khatera explains: “If we look back at the past, there were limited opportunities for women to develop; women were kept restricted to home activities and most of us were living a life we did not choose. We were not allowed to go outside, even to visit a doctor for treatment, so hundreds of women lost their lives because of lack of care and restrictions on their movement. Women did not have access to education, health facilities, markets and social gatherings at community level. My husband, though an educated person, did not agree that my daughter should be educated and attend school. He understood the importance of education for a woman, but the main cause of his resistance was local traditions and people’s negative mindset regarding women’s education. Women in Dawlatabad district were in a bad economic situation; they were used to supporting their male family members in farming, but their labour was not recognized and not paid. Whilst livestock work was entirely performed by women, they had no right to the money generated from the sale of livestock/dairy products. At that time, dairy production was the only potential source of income for women in Dawlatabad, but their products were of low quality and were sold to the local community at a low price.”
In 2006, ActionAid, through its Local Right Program (LRP), initiated women’s empowerment activities in Dawlatabad district. The program focused on the establishment of local structures to support women in communities and developed their understanding of their rights and the ability to advocate for what they are entitled to, as provided by law through different local authorities. Khatera notes: “The program has made significant contributions to women’s empowerment in this area. For me, if I can send my daughter to school and university today without a mahram, it is all because of the information sessions on women rights provided by the LRP and other programs of ActionAid in Dawlatabad district. I believe women are now in a better and stronger position than they were in the past. Women can go to school and university without a mahram, they are engaged in economic activities, they are entrepreneurs now, and they have improved skills and knowledge with improved income for their goods and services.”
She continues: “In 2016, after extensive training on soap production, we formed into a group of women producers, and a package of basic equipment and materials was provided for production. A commitment between the group members for further development and continuation of our business was made. We have made that commitment a reality, and even after two years with limited further materials from NGOs, we have been able to continue producing soaps and selling our production in the local market. On average each year, we work for 6 months and during this period, 55,000 cakes of soap are produced. A single cake of soap is sold at the price of 8 AFN in the local market, which gives us as a group a gross profit of AFN 440,000 (8,172 AUD) each year. In 2017, we were able to produce and sell 100,000 cakes of soap to the market, but in the winter season, due to the lack of raw materials, we have been unable to produce more cakes of soap.”
“The women are very happy with the changes brought to their life through improved skills, knowledge and involvement in economic activities,” said Suraya, the Deputy Director of the Dawlatabad Women’s Soap Making Group. She adds: “We believe these are the main reasons for the uplift of women in our community. We observe more respect and recognition, as compared to the past, and this has changed both women’s personal lives and their lives within the community. We as a women’s group really appreciate the work of different organizations with respect to women’s empowerment, particularly the work by ActionAid and its partners. We hope that such interventions are continued and expanded to other areas in Afghanistan as well.”