ARZU, which means “hope” in Dari, is an innovative model of social entrepreneurship that helps Afghan women weavers and their families break the cycle of poverty by providing them steady income and access to education and healthcare by sourcing and selling the rugs they weave. While structured as a 501(c)(3) in the United States and an international NGO in Afghanistan, ARZU operates as a “for-benefit” corporation, using private sector practices to create jobs in desperately poor rural villages where little opportunity exists.
Money alone will not change people’s lives -- they must also have access to the essential skills and education necessary to thrive in an ever-changing world. Central to ARZU’s approach is our Social Contract with our artisan weaver families. ARZU agrees to pay women the market-weaving rate, plus up to a 50% incentive bonus for the highest quality workmanship. In exchange for this extra income, families must agree: to send all children, both girls and boys, under age 15 to school full-time; to allow all women in the household to attend ARZU literacy classes; and to permit ARZU to transport pregnant women and newborns to clinics for pre- and post-natal care. To read more about our Social Programs, visit our Social Programs page.
Severe inequity and female abuse often result from gender-biased, male-dominated societies where education, opportunity and free choice do not exist for females. Former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan identified the empowerment of women as the single most effective tool for development. There are few countries in need of development more than Afghanistan, and few countries where the women are less empowered.
The defeat of the Taliban liberated Afghan women and girls from the regime's oppression, but left behind a generation of women who had been deprived of any education, healthcare services and participation of any kind outside the confines of their homes. Two decades of war have created a dismal legacy for these women and their children. ARZU is dedicated to the empowerment of women and their families in effort to break the cycle of poverty. This contributes to positive development of gender equality in this country.
The rug industry is notorious for exploitation of women. Widows, particularly vulnerable to abuse, support 33% of ARZU families. ARZU steps in to standardize, control and validate payments for work. ARZU provides upfront (and at no cost) the resources necessary for weavers to earn a fair labor living: top quality materials, graphs, and expert oversight. Since almost no weaving families actually own a loom when they join ARZU, we developed a “rent to own” cost-sharing program to provide a sturdy metal loom, which is typically a household’s most important capital asset.
ARZU’s economic empowerment program enables a woman in her multiple roles as mother, caregiver and breadwinner. Weaving, a centuries-old tradition handed down from mother to daughter, traditionally takes place within the home, naturally enabling mothers to care for their children while simultaneously earning wages.
ARZU’s code of practice regarding child weavers is more stringent than the Afghanistan’s government. All weavers’ children under 15 must attend school full-time. ARZU monitors attendance and performance to ensure that families comply with this requirement. For example, ARZU staff review the attendance sheets at government schools and discuss unexplained absences with the families.