Balkh carpet weavers, internationally renowned for their carpets, have lambasted national unity government leaders for what they consider a failure to adequately support and take full advantage of the carpet industry's potential to drive economic growth.
The weavers, comprised largely of women, have warned that the domestic carpet industry could face major job losses and diminished competitive edge in international markets if the government does not take action soon. Their primary grievance centers on the low wages most carpet weavers garner.
Khadija is a Balkh carpet weaver who was forced to take up the trade when she lost her husband 14 years ago. She says she works day and night in order to support her children. "I send my daughter and son to school and meet their expenses by weaving carpets," Khadija told TOLOnews.
The majority of women working in the carpet industry in Balkh are said to live under the poverty line, with many barely able to earn 50 Afs a day. Although their proposed solutions for the difficulties they face differ, Balkh's carpet weavers all agree that the central government should do more to support their industry.
"There is no market, we a need a company to sign a contract with so that we can reap the fruits of our labor," another weaver named Fatima said. "Now only the company owners have the advantage, but not the workers," she added.
Shakila, a social worker and women's rights activist, has sought to help empower Balkh women through employment promotion. "We want to emphasize that workshops should be launched for women to train them in design, coloring and other fields," she told TOLOnews. "There is a need to sign a contract with local companies and even foreign companies in order to boost the incomes of the workers."
Based on expert estimates, there are 120 carpet weaving companies operating in nine northern and northeastern provinces of Afghanistan, and some 90 percent of the weavers are said to be women. Commerce officials say they receive on average two to ten thousands Afs in exchange for each meter of carpet.
Still, the acting head of the northern carpet weavers association, Abdul Manan Balkhi, has acknowledged the difficulties faced by workers in the industry and vowed to do what is necessary to improve their plight. "We are thinking about joint cooperation with the government to establish contacts in international markets, particularly with sellers in U.S. and German markets," Balkhi said on Sunday. "We will talk to donors and create new designs, which are better in terms of prices, and this will help us facilitate better pay for workers."