In the vibrant city of Peshawar, located in northwestern Pakistan, a remarkable story of resilience and empowerment unfolds. Inside a modest workshop, a group of Afghan women intently observes as their instructor guides them through the art of tailoring. The hum of sewing machines fills the room, symbolizing hope and change for these women who have faced countless adversities.
This beacon of hope, known as the skills centre, was the brainchild of 37-year-old Peshawar resident, Mahra Basheer. Witnessing the continuous influx of people from the neighbouring war-torn Afghanistan, particularly after the takeover by the Taliban in 2021, Mahra felt compelled to act. The socio-political landscape of Afghanistan post this takeover significantly curtailed opportunities for women, both economically and socially. As a proactive response to this situation, Mahra established the skills centre in 2021 with a dual purpose: to provide Afghan women with valuable skills and to pave the way for their financial independence.
The workshop offers a diverse curriculum. Apart from tailoring, women receive training in digital skills and beauty treatments. The centre’s objectives resonated deeply within the Afghan women community. As word spread, enrolments surged, resulting in a long waiting list of eager women wishing to grasp this lifeline.
Mahra envisions the potential for further expansion. She believes that with the right kind of support and resources, the centre could train between 250 to 500 students simultaneously. “Empowering women who can play an important role in the community is at the heart of our mission,” Basheer passionately shared.
While this initiative primarily targets Afghan women, the broader context cannot be ignored. Pakistan has been a refuge for Afghans for many years. Following the withdrawal of foreign troops and the consequent rise of the Taliban in 2021, a massive wave of Afghans sought sanctuary in Pakistan. The United Nations refugee agency reveals that even before these recent developments, Pakistan was home to approximately 1.5 million registered Afghan refugees. This number is one of the highest globally. Additionally, over a million more are believed to reside in Pakistan without official registration.
Pakistan’s already strained economy feels the pressure from this inflow. The government grows increasingly concerned about the sheer number of Afghans crossing the borders. Many Afghans, unfortunately, find themselves ensnared in legal complexities, resulting in several being arrested due to a lack of proper documentation.
But within this challenging backdrop, Mahra’s skills centre is a glimmer of hope. Recognizing the broader impact of her initiative, she has also incorporated Pakistani women, particularly from conservative sectors, into her program.
Graduates from the three-month-long training course at the centre have forward-looking aspirations. Equipped with newfound skills, many envision starting their own ventures. Fatima, a 19-year-old Afghan who underwent training at the centre, dreams of a brighter future. The severe restrictions in her homeland, just a few hours away, prohibit establishments like beauty parlours. Yet, in Peshawar, she sees a world of opportunity. “Right now my plan is to start a salon at home, working towards the goal of one day owning a large professional salon,” she declared.
In conclusion, the skills centre in Peshawar, spearheaded by Mahra Basheer, is more than just a training institute. It stands as a testament to the human spirit’s resilience and the power of community support, offering hope and empowerment to women amid challenging times.