Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



In Approaching Textiles, Varying Viewpoints: Proceedings of the Seventh Biennial Symposium of the Textile Society of America, Santa Fe, New Mexico, 2000


Copyright © 2000 by the author(s).


Afghan men and women have been restricted in their use of traditional and contemporary items of textiles during several "jihad" periods of Afghan history, first during the Mujahedeen period of the late 1970's and since the mid-1990's by the Taleban Islamic Movement of Afghanistan (Daly, 1998b).2 "Use" during either period reflects varying viewpoints that govern not only the wearing of textiles but also involvement in the textile craft economies. In either circumstance textile craft economies have economically supported both men and women (Daly, 1999b). Most "outsiders" presume that the strict measures imposed by first the Mujahedeen then followed by strident sanctions imposed by the Taleban on Afghans have diminished their creativity and production. However continuity and change, tradition and fashion is evident in the textile techniques of production.3 It is also evident in a variety of cultural forms of expression. Techniques used by women include but are not limited to rug, dress and print making, embroidery, knitting and crocheting (Majrooh, 1989). This presentation focuses on Afghan women's embroidery traditions and provides examples of how static/dynamic characteristics of tradition/fashion survive austere political and religious sanctions using the medium of textiles.

Several factors have contributed to the ongoing plight of Afghans and their textile craft traditions. Briefly summarized these factors include:

• According to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, Afghans are the largest refugee population worldwide (http://www.unhcLchistatist/980view/chl.htm). They live as internally displaced peoples in Afghanistan, as refugees in camp and non-camp settings of Pakistan, and in diaspora communities worldwide. Employment and economic development is essential to their survival and frequently textile craft economies are a means to this end.

• Patriarchy governs the everyday life of Afghans. Afghan society is patriarchal, patrilineal and patrilocal (Dupree, 1980). Paradoxically, an estimated 75% of Afghan women are single, married or widowed living in female headed households. In many instances regardless of their marital status women must sustain themselves and their families. Textile craft economies are an acceptable form of women's sustainable development within the family context especially in disrupted family contexts.