“I had to create something ... a place where we can talk, we can chat so we can forget our worries. So we started with embroideries. Rather than hear who has been slaughtered and who had been killed, [they could] get away from the trauma,” explains the softly spoken woman with gray-green eyes and a tired expression. Mrs. Ahmedzeb’s own husband was murdered under mysterious circumstances in 1986.
Using her personal savings, she bought electric sewing machines, looms and material, and put out word to the women of Swat’s towns and villages to come and visit her.
Now in its third year, with more than 500 women in employment, her three centers train women, free of charge, and export the colorful and distinctively Swati embroidery in the form of dresses, cushion covers, napkins, and more to buyers in Pakistan’s metropolitan cities of Lahore and Islamabad, the capital. An art exhibit in Islamabad by Argentinean Mariano Akerman this week showcased some of the best designs.
The centers – which Ahmedzeb continues to fund with her own money, including buying the raw materials – are filled with chatter and laughter. Swati women, unlike men, have few opportunities to congregate. Here they share tips and exchange gossip while sitting on mats. Several bring their young children too.
“We have so many needs to take care of so it’s better for us to work for ourselves and earn for ourselves,” says Sheema Bibi, a young single woman who began coming to the center, attached to Ms. Ahmedzeb’s ancestral home, last year. “Our brothers and fathers sometimes object, but everyone needs the money to get by.”