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Sewing The Seeds Of A Cottage Industry With Kandahar's Exquisite Embroidery

A woman stitches traditional Khamak embroidery in Afghanistan's Kandahar Province. The embroidery has become a "nice employment opportunity" for women in the region.
In Kandahar, the political and economic nerve center of southern Afghanistan, the regional art of embroidery is becoming a cottage industry.

The unique local embroidery, called Khamak in Pashto, consists of stitching intricate designs into cotton or linen cloth.

Such embroidery was traditionally limited to the shawls men in the region carry on their shoulders or the front of their long, loose shirts.

But Khamak embroidery is now incorporated into tablecloths and women's clothing as demand increases for these stately designs.

Siddiqa, a woman in Kandahar's fifth district, calls Khamak embroidery a "nice employment opportunity" for women in the region. She says hundreds of women in the city of Kandahar and surrounding districts are now employed to make a variety of products.

But stitching Khamak embroidery requires great attention to detail and is extremely labor intensive. Gul Ghotai, who lives in the agricultural district of Panjwai near Kandahar, says its takes her three months to make one shirt-front.

Such a sample reportedly fetches around $200 on the local market.

Hameed Gul, who sells Khamak embroidery in Kandahar, says demand outside southern Afghanistan is growing.

Many Afghans and foreigners want to acquire it, he says, along with Afghan rugs and pottery.

This growing popularity has attracted the attention of Afghan authorities and the international aid community.

Zubaida Painda, head of the women's affairs department in Kandahar, says that the government intends to promote the ethnic art and help turn it into a formal cottage industry.

Another project, Kandahar Treasure, already markets Khamak products in the West.

This art is already helping hundreds of rural women, some of whom provide for their families, to earn a living in a deeply conservative and otherwise troubled region.

-- Mohammmad Sadiq Ristinai