Afghan Prison's Training Scheme Gives Female Inmates Hope

Handicraft skills are reducing tensions within the institution as well as helping women support their families.

Afghan Prison's Training Scheme Gives Female Inmates Hope

Handicraft skills are reducing tensions within the institution as well as helping women support their families.

Prison guard stands as female inmates weave carpets in Herat's main prison. (Photo: Majid Saeedi/Getty Images)
Prison guard stands as female inmates weave carpets in Herat's main prison. (Photo: Majid Saeedi/Getty Images)

Shogofa has been in Baghlan prison for the last six years, serving a 20-year sentence for murder. But the 30-year-old mother-of-five is upbeat about her future. Although she had no marketable skills before arriving in jail, she has since learned both tailoring and carpet-weaving and is managing to help support her family while still inside prison.

“I earn 50 US dollars for sewing clothing for male and female prisoners,” she told IWPR. “And when I am released, I will not need money from my husband. The profession I learned will allow me to improve my life and that of my family.”

Inmates at Baghlan prison in north-eastern Afghanistan say that a job training scheme is not only helping them financially but also serving to reduce tensions inside the institution.

According to Afghan law, prisons must offer a range of services to prisoners including education and training facilities.

Provision across the country is patchy, but staff at Baghlan say they are proud that female inmates there can learn rug-making, tailoring, embroidery and bead weaving. Not only that, but they are allowed to sell what they produce and keep half the profits.

Ghulam Ali Khan, director of the women’s section of Baghlan prison, said, “The prison management takes 50 per cent of the proceeds of these products, which is spent buying raw materials for the prisoners and on training costs.”

Baghlan prison director Abdul Aleem Kohistani said that his administration provided inmates with all the equipment they required for carpet weaving, sewing and beadwork.

The female officers then sold the products and prisoners were handed their share of the profits.

Inmates were also kept occupied, which improved the general atmosphere in the jail.

 “When prisoners get involved working with handicrafts, they are less angry and are also provided with extra financial support,” Kohistani said.

Andisha Mashal, legal advisor to the department of women’s affairs of Baghlan province, agreed that education and vocational training was very effective in reducing tensions within prisons.

“Most often, when prisoners are idle, they start arguing with each other,” she said. “If they are busy with work, they do not make trouble with each other that could lead to violence.”

(See also Afghanistan: Female Prisoners Complain of Bullying).

Marwa, an inmate in her 20s, recounted how previously, left with nothing to occupy their time, the prisoners would fight and torment each other.

 “The ones without jobs would make fun of other prisoners or humiliate them, and I was one of those bullied by them, they insulted and humiliated me,” Marwa recounted. “However, it is good now that they are also kept busy with work during the day.”

Marwa, like many other inmates, was imprisoned for running away from home, an action defined as a “moral crime”. This semi-legal category also includes women accused of sexual misconduct, leaving their home or refusing to get married. These are not offences in the written criminal code, but it is common for courts to impose custodial sentences.

She said that she was certain that the weaving and beadwork skills she had learnt would make a real difference to her future.

“I have faith in myself now that, after I am released from prison, I will be able to help my family financially through carpet weaving and embroidery work,” Marwa added.

Marzia was also imprisoned two years ago after running away from home.

She said that until she arrived at Baghlan, she had no skills beyond the ability to do basic domestic chores.

Once at the prison, however, she was given the opportunity to learn carpet weaving.

“I am happy that I’ve spent most of my time in prison on education and weaving carpets. I don’t feel that the days drag on here and the money is a great help. After I get out, back to my normal life, I will be able to make a living with my handmade crafts.”

According to Article 28 of Afghanistan’s prisoner’s law, detention centres must provide inmates access to a employment opportunities, as well as education and vocational skills training. They should also have use of a library, a place of worship and have the opportunity to engage in cultural and recreational activities.

At Baghlan, the prisoners can sign up for two-hour sessions on literacy and numeracy three times a week, organised by the department of education.

Graduates of the course, aimed at teaching reading and counting skills within six months, are issued certificates. The department of education also pays the salaries of the instructors and provides all the study materials, including books, notebooks and pens.

Ghulam Qadir Jamshid, head of literacy at Baghlan’s department of education, said that his office was reaching out to all adults across the province who could not read or write.

“This is why our activities also extend to the male and female prisons,” he said, adding,

“Most crimes and mistakes are rooted in ignorance; when the prisoners learn to read, they study books. In the light of knowledge, they can change the course of their lives.”

Shafeeqa Sepehr, head of women’s rights section of Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) said that the prison’s vocational training was satisfactory.

However, she said the administration had to do much more.

 “If we take into consideration Article 28 of the prisoners’ law, apart from the trainings, education and facilitating professional works, nothing else - for instance, an equipped library, recreation grounds and cultural activities - is arranged for the prisoners. The AIHRC has tried many times to have these provisions implemented, but no action has yet been taken in this area.”

Baghlan provincial council member Noor Zia Aymaq also said that while current provision was important, it did not go far enough.  

“Education and vocational training work very well in a number of aspects,” he said. “Employment takes prisoners’ minds off their problems and they don’t get violent with each other. Besides that, they also get an income from their work from which they can finance their basic needs.”

However, he also said that prisoners had complained during his visits about the lack of a proper library or any recreational facilities.

Kohistani acknowledged that the facilities mandated by the law were not provided to inmates in his prison.

“Baghlan prison does not enjoy good resources or facilities. In order to make these available, the prison administration has made many requests to the relevant institutions, but has yet to receive a positive response from any of them.”

Nonetheless, prisoners say that even the current scheme is helping make their time inside pass more smoothly.

Sahar Gul, serving a three-year prison term for adultery, told IWPR that she came from a poor family and that when she arrived at the prison she lacked the funds to buy even basic necessities.

“In the beginning, I had days of great suffering,” she continued. “However, after I learned bead weaving and tailoring in the prison, I managed to stand on my own two feet.

“Now, since I am busy with work during the day, I also do not feel the hardship of prison as deeply as before.”

This report was produced under IWPR’s Promoting Human Rights and Good Governance in Afghanistan initiativefunded by the European Union Delegation to Afghanistan.

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