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Quest for ‘tailor-made’ solutions

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By Peter Chipanga:

NEW LIFE—One of the graduates at Dapp

Aisha is a 16 year old girl. She has a sister and three brothers. Unlike the brothers, the girls are given ready-made clothes or taken to shops to choose ready clothes despite the fact that at times, it is not easy to get the right choices. Aisha disclosed that her parents explained to her that, just like in many areas, in her Namakango Village which is under Traditional Authority Mponda in Mangochi District, a majority of the tailors are male, which sees the parents being uncomfortable and skeptical in as far as entrusting them with the girls is concerned. Aisha’s father affirmed that some of the male tailors are naughty as they are time and again accused of indecent assault.

“While some touch women or girls in an exaggerated manner or areas that have nothing to do with taking measurements for the dresses the women want be sewn, others talk nonsensical words or stories,” he said. Her mother chips in: “I opt to purchase ready dresses for fear of being exposed or exposing my treasured daughters to male tailors…some of them hide under their craft to abuse female clients in various ways.

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”One of the tailors in the area, Amidu conceded that the craft is indeed male-dominated in the country, which somehow stands in the way of most women, especially those from the Muslim community, whose religion has some reservations on man and woman interaction outside marriage.

“It is disturbing especially these days when some men have no respect for women and they would take advantage to cuddle the woman customer in a manner they would not do to a male counterpart, all in the name of taking measurements for your dress, which is bad as it also leaves our trade in disrepute,” Amidu lamented.

But the case now appears to be different in some parts of Balaka District and surrounding areas where women are being given an opportunity to advance in the tailoring field to bridge the gap and probably safeguard the dignity of fellow women. This is all thanks to an organisation called At-Tariqatul Qadiriyyah Sunni Association (Aqsa) which is funding a programme called Mai Fatima Women Tailoring. So far, about 80 women have graduated in Sub Traditional Authority Kachenga in the district. “Islamic teachings discourage men-women interactions. It is a fact that there are more men tailors in the country which makes some Muslim women reluctant to visit them. Some just prefer staying away, hence we applaud Aqsa for targeting women in this programnme as that would help some of us to be visiting tailoring shops run by fellow women,” Aisha marvelled when told of the development.

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Aqsa Chief Inspector, Sheikh Fahad Muhammad, explained that although the initial programme was to provide tailoring training to vulnerable women as part of socio-economic empowerment, the women are also helped in other areas such as religion through teachings given during the training. “Aqsa established that poverty was increasingly being experienced especially in the rural areas. With the fact that women are always at home and that they have a natural love for their families, the programme thought targeting women would reduce some of the hardships in families, help widows and orphaned children. “But through the same programme, it has been exciting to see that the women have also improved in faith, with many excited as they will have women tailors to assist them,” he said. One of the graduates, Margaret Misha said while some personal problems would be solved, the initiative would also address a common problem that women faced, hence promised to use the sewing machines productively.

Although some trainers are direct products of the very same programme and that it has the potential to reduce gender imbalance and promotion of religion, there are some challenges rocking the initiative such as graduates selling the sewing machines they receive. Some trainees however said the tough economic landscape in the country has an impact in sustaining tailoring businesses because of insufficient capital, which Aqsa officials also admitted.

“Since the target group is vulnerable people and in the villages, they cannot invest much, as such, it would be prudent for the government and other stakeholders to help with some soft loans or materials to make the women stay in business,” Muhammad said. One of the female political leaders in Balaka, Dorothy Miliwadi, hailed the initiative, stressing that it empowers women economically, which is in line with the philosophy of President Lazarus Chakwera and his Tonse Alliance-led government.“Programmes like these help in reducing poverty levels and my message to Aqsa is to consider extending the programme to many other areas,” Miliwadi said.

One of the trainers, Grace Chizaka, who was rewarded with a bicycle for her hard working spirit, urged the women to remain disciplined and professional, saying the certificates and sewing machines they received would be useless if they will not be focused. Some of the people that graced the graduation ceremony included traditional leaders, councillors Linda Mwapasa for Bwaila Ward and Pharaoh Kambiri for Liwawazi Ward. A similar tailoring initiative was implemented in Salima District, courtesy of Care Malawi, which in addition to empowering the women folk economically, would bridge the gap that leaves a lot of women at a disadvantage in as far as interracting with male tailors is concerned. In Blantyre, Chilangoma Development Aid from People to People (Dapp) training college also recently graduated women tailors.

Dapp project Officer Mirriam Nangonzo Kazako said the graduates were good enough to compete favourably on the market, whether in employment or business, as components of leadership and business management were also covered. Taking into consideration all of the above, one can firmly see that strides are being made to ensure that women gain insightful knowledge and skills that would not only economically empower them but also take them out of discomfort, so that girls such as Aisha can freely have their clothes tailor made without being subjected to ridicule or any abuse.

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