Free Women was started in 2020 by Hanifa Javadi, a refugee from Afghanistan. From its conception, this organization has provided employment and skill development to Afghan women in Salt Lake City, Utah who fled their home countries due to unsafe living conditions.
This artisan group is composed of 26 women who intimately understand the plight of the people living within their home country. Each month, they band together to provide support to their friends and family still living in Afghanistan.
Hanifa explained that at the end of every month, each of them put $20 each into a bucket and write the names of their loved ones onto small slips of paper before choosing who to send the money to.
This practice shows how deeply committed Free Women is to caring for their loved ones and informs the pain that each of them are undoubtedly feeling as those they care for experience increased instability in the country they were forced to leave.
In Hanifa’s own words, “This job is not just for me. It’s for everyone.”
As the Taliban takes greater control over Afghanistan with the recent decision to pull U.S. troops, we mourn with our artisan partners whose family members’ physical safety and freedom in their home country is currently being compromised.
During the last time the Taliban took control, Afghan girls were forbidden to go to school. Many fear the consequences women and girls will face as a result of the current situation—especially in the realm of education.
“I fear for my Afghan sisters,” said Malala Yousafzai, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, recognized for her courage when fighting for children’s education. “Afghan girls and women are once again where I have been,” she said, “in despair over the thought that they might never be allowed to see a classroom or hold a book again.”
“We must listen to [their] voices,” she pleaded, “They are asking for our protection, for education, for freedom, and the future they were promised. We cannot continue to fail them.”
According to research, girls’ education in Afghanistan has been on the decline for the past several years, with only 37% of adolescent girls being able to read and write compared to 66% of adolescent boys.
Millions of Afghan girls have never stepped foot in the classroom, and household resources are often unequally distributed to children based on their gender, with girls typically getting the short end of the stick.
For the past four years, Hanifa has been sending money back to a family in Afghanistan to help pay for their daughter’s education. “She’s very strong and intelligent, but when her dad died, she started working from home and stopped going to school.”
Hanifa explained that when families in Afghanistan struggle financially, girls are the first ones to suffer.
With the funds Hanifa has been sending, this student has graduated secondary school and began college.
Hanifa explained that the orders Free Women receive are not only impactful for the Afghan refugee women located in Salt Lake City, Utah; they are impactful for their families back at home.
“Together, we help each other help our families.” She stated.
Hanifa and her children
Hanifa speaks to what research shows: women invest in their households and communities.
When explaining why she continues to provide support to her loved ones in her home country, she said: “I feel for them; I know how hard it is, especially for families with daughters. When we get big orders, we have more money, and we can come together and help other women.”
While it is both unethical and unrealistic to expect the weight of remedying gender inequality and sex-based violence to rest on the shoulders of women, we can rest assured that supporting women, especially those with historically underrepresented backgrounds, has a large impact on the people they love and care for. And in the case of Free Women, the people they love and care for are their family members and friends living both within the U.S. and their home country, Afghanistan.