A Resolute Woman in Afghanistan

When the Taliban seized control of Kabul, Afghanistan, in 1996, Kamilia Sidiqi suddenly found herself responsible for supporting her five siblings.

Although she had just earned a certificate from the Sayed Jamaluddin Teacher Training Institute, she couldn’t get a job teaching. Girls weren’t allowed even to attend school.

In the book The Dressmaker of Khair Khana, Gayle Tzemach Lemmon tells how this Resolute Woman  started a successful tailor shop that employed her sisters, friends and neighbors.

Because the women were confined to their homes, Sidiqi operated the business out of her home.

When she went to buy fabric and other supplies, she dressed in a full-length burqa that covered not only her head, but her entire face except for her eyes. She never went alone. She always took with her Rahim, her 13-year-old brother, to serve as her mabram or chaperone. Women were not supposed to be on the street without a male escort.

Sidiqi talked business with the shop owners who bought her dresses cautiously, always speaking in a soft voice and keeping an eye on the front door.  If she had been caught talking to a man who was not a relative, she might have been yelled at or taken into the street and beaten or detained.

In 2005, almost 10 years after she had started her tailor shop, Sidiqi traveled to Washington, D.C., to tell members of Congress, business people and diplomats how education and jobs can transform women’s lives.

She deserves recognition, of course. But, at the end of her book, Lemmon emphasizes that Sidiqi represents many women in Afghanistan and other countries, too. “Brave young women complete heroic acts every day, with no one bearing witness,” this author says.

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