Rangina Hamidi is all smiles. Twinkling brown eyes dance through the folds of her muted scarf, instantly warming the glow of the Zoom frame.
She’s about to discuss her upcoming trip to Charleston, brought to town by the Ibu Foundation for “Global Champions – Afghanistan.” Taking place on March 8, the event is the first of an annual gathering scheduled for International Women’s Day to celebrate the achievements of women.
From another frame, Ibu founder Susan Hull Walker smiles back, greeting her friend and fellow advocate for women in remote places.
Walker, a textile arts scholar and former minister who studied religions at Harvard Divinity School, founded the Ibu movement. A Charleston-based textile company with a flagship store on King Street, Ibu collaborates with more than 100 groups of women artisans in 40 countries, as a way to uplift women by disrupting poverty and bringing change through their own art.
Now the two women are joining forces in Charleston to share Hamidi’s story.
Always in flight
A quick look at Hamidi’s good faith and history renders his laid-back manner in stark contrast to the hot seats and hard knocks that have punctuated his 44 years.
She describes herself as a three-time refugee, with a pattern of zigzagging and ocean-hopping from Afghanistan to Pakistan to America, then back to her homeland and back to the United States. , where she now lives.
It is not only intercultural migration that gives him the intensity of his life experience.
“I never planned on becoming who I have become,” she said. “I just became, based on the decisions of my life.”
Back in Afghanistan, Hamidi pulled off the revolutionary feat of leading the country’s education ministry — the first woman to do so in a country that relegates most to the confines of family compounds.
When that was upended by the Taliban takeover in 2021, she successfully negotiated the continuation of Kandahar Treasure, her female-powered, female-empowering collective centered on textiles adorned with traditional khamak embroidery.
And there’s this: she did it when she knew the Taliban were responsible for her father’s violent death.
But these life choices had a fine thread that ran back and forth and intricately created a pattern: most events and decisions hinged on a call to change the lives of all women for the better.
This influenced much of the flight, forcing it to destinations with more opportunities for women or those in need of a change.
Her family first fled the Russian invasion of her native Afghanistan to Pakistan in the late 1970s. But in third grade, when she and her sister were forced out of school because it was deemed unnecessary for the girls, they landed in Virginia, where she remained in college.
The events of September 11, 2001 prompted Hamidi to return to her home country in 2003, as a die-hard Afghan Americanized feminist ready to change women’s lives, with the goal of doing so by offering breakthroughs towards independence. financial.
“After the overthrow of the Taliban, there was something inside me that told me I had to go home – home that I didn’t remember, but I thought I knew.”
Hamidi then realized the root of the problem: it was the lack of education that Afghan women face because they are not allowed to go to school. As the mother of a young girl, she found there were few opportunities. Next step, Kabul, where she founded an international school.
“I did it for my daughter’s sake,” she said. Then, in 2020, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani called her to offer her an appointment as Minister of Education. Seeing this in part as a way to further demonstrate a woman’s effectiveness in such a role, she agreed.
The strength of a point
But what could be a business that could pave the way to financial freedom for an Afghan woman?
In a word, embroidery. The quiet and seemingly benign task of pulling a threaded needle through cloth, the age-old art that is part of traditional Afghan culture, or Pashtunwali, was his trademark khamak.
In bordered designs that Hamidi says reflect women’s own social boundaries, with tiny stitches of up to 70 in a single inch, embroidery is a cultural touchstone in Afghanistan.
He swaddles Afghan babies as they enter the world. It adorns the men who roam freely in it. He elevates the homes that these invisible women assemble, often in silence, without a voice.
Hamidi found that for Afghan women, their needle and thread come together as a form of expression.
“For this particular group who have only had the opportunity to learn embroidery, for them it is the expression of the love, the communication, the precise beauty that they envision to have in the world.”
Hamidi also sees the power of these women through their embroidery, which allows them to earn a living with dignity.
“While men are busy destroying various components of community, society and families, it is women who build, whether through their love or through their creation of embroidered pieces.”
The Ibu Collaboration
“This khamak embroidery is one of the finest and finest embroidery in the world,” Walker said.
She met Hamidi at the Santa Fe Folk Art Market and they quickly became friends. Partnering with Kandahar Treasure, Walker determined that their collaborative piece should feature the khamak on something that could be studied closely.
“For Ibu, it’s our job, to be able to see and know and learn the skills, this language of embroidery from these women,” Walker said.
They landed on a resolutely Western application: the cocktail napkin. Each set of Kandahar Treasures progressively demonstrates the intricacy of handwork, while also providing a way for a host to tell the story.
New pieces are set to debut at the March 8 event, where “Stitching Within Limits: Afghan Women Creating a Future,” the book Hamidi co-wrote with Mary Littrell, will also go on sale, with proceeds being donated to the Ibu Foundation.
Enter the Taliban
Amid all the Hamidi momentum, the Taliban violently overthrew the US-backed government in August 2021.
“The Taliban don’t want women to be educated just because education opens minds, hearts, ears and eyes, and that’s something they don’t want to do,” Hamidi said.
Financial opportunities prevailed over these policies. After the Taliban takeover, Hamidi found she was able to communicate with the Taliban, welcome them to the Kandahar Treasure, and point out the great financial needs of the region.
“After some back and forth about it, they said, ‘As long as the women don’t make a fuss about it, we have no problem with them continuing to do this great work,'” Hamidi said. .
Embroidery reinforced its own case. When she met the Taliban five days after the fall, she learned they had watched her and approved of her choice of dress, which often showcases the khamak, saying it said a lot about who she was.
“This particular embroidery has always been attached to who we are as Afghans.”
Still, making deals with the Taliban is no small feat for Hamidi.
“People asked, ‘How can you go back to a country where your father was so violently taken from you, and even then, how can you talk to the very elements that took your father away from you?’ – the Taliban.”
“I think there’s something incredibly powerful that all women have,” she said. “We learn to forgive.
She learned that she cannot prevent an entire nation from benefiting from her dedication, commitment and work because of the hatred for the people who killed her father.
“We can’t afford to have this animosity anymore.”
The three-time refugee refuses to give up, convinced that the collective power of women around the world can change the male narrative of destruction into one of beauty and creation. And, yes, embroidery.
“I can’t afford to give up.”
Spoken like a real world champion, and a real woman too.