Spinning and weaving

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“Vasco Pyjama” is the internet name used by an Australian woman who until very recently worked for an international non government organisation (NGO) in Afghanistan. She wrote a wonderful journal of her experiences called Pyjama Samsara, where she is now blogging about her new posting in Indonesia.

Given our project, our interest was piqued by a fascinating discussion considering the physical and economic outcomes of carpet weaving on women in a Hazara area in Afghanistan. We’ve taken excerpts of the posts below – click the link at the end of each excerpt for the full entry.

We have been looking for income generation or livelihood opportunities that we can promote for village women. We don’t like carpet weaving, as it is exploitative and causes eye problems. We don’t like gellim weaving, as we did that before, and could not find a market for it. But now, we are thinking… perhaps spinning yarn?

The spinning wheel design was sourced from a museum in France! And then reproduced by a carpenter in Afghanistan. The NGO provides the spinning wheel (for USD12, a third of the USD36 that it costs to make) and the raw wool. Then the women make the margin (price of yarn – cost of wool). Currently, the NGO does all the purchasing and marketing, but they are intending to form women’s associations to do that. (Click here for full entry.)

Hazara spinner

In response to a question from a reader, she elaborated:

… we have to find a women’s livelihood activity for the long winter months (six months over here). Women now typically either do nothing, or those who are lucky weave carpets. But carpet weaving is hard work. It involves sitting crouched next to two or three others, and having to look in the dim light. Many people have shoulder and neck problems as well as eye problems at the end of it.

But the fate for those who don’t weave the carpets is worse. They do not earn any money and are very poor.

Weaving gellim is better ergonomically than carpets. But it pays less. Spinning pays the most. Also, it does not require you to look at the wool/yarn. You could even spin if you were blind. And you can stretch whilst spinning. And it is not small movements like it is for carpet weaving, or even crochet or knitting. I tried out the machine and the pedal is very sensitive. It does not require any strength, and works when you tilt it forwards and backwards. Also, the woman had a cushion, but we asked her to move positions (she was by the window) as the light was not good there.

Basically, it has less ergonomic problems than even tailoring has. It is the best option there is for now. Also, the women (and even children) spend the summer months doing very very very hard farm labour, like digging potatoes, carrying wood, carrying big bales of hay. When I shake their hands, I am stunned at how rough and calloused they are. They regard even carpet weaving as easy work …

Another thing to take into consideration that the poverty here is extreme. One in four children die before they reach the age of five. One in six women will die in childbirth. Most women do not reach the age of 45. Hunger is extreme. Having this little extra money means that families have fewer hungry days in a year. A few children live a little longer. Girls are married off a bit later. (Click here for full entry.)

Thanks to Vasco Pyjama for her permission to use her text and image.

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