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Using craft making to rebuild lives in conflict regions

Middlesex academic Dr Neelam Raina addresses United Nations Commission on the Status of Women about supporting women living in conflict regions

On 14 March, Middlesex academic, Dr Neelam Raina, will be representing Middlesex and the Gender, Justice and Security Hub (GCRF) at an event being held by the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women event (CSW67) to discuss how communities of women are using traditional crafts and skills to rebuild their lives after conflict.

Co-Hosted with the Permanent Mission of Sri Lanka to the United Nations and the International Civil Society Action Network (ICAN), the event focuses on how women in remote locations within fragile and conflict affected regions can use traditional craft making and skills to earn money and sustain livelihoods.

Speakers, including Dr Raina, will discuss the links between peace building, empowerment, and livelihood generation. Dr Raina believes that human agency is key to resolving global challenges, and women’s access to resources and opportunities for generating incomes is key to building just and peaceful societies in line with the ambitions of UN Sustainable Development Goal 16.

Commenting on the project, Dr Raina said:

“By supporting women to use traditional skills and craft making, often from within the safety of their home environment, has long standing benefits. It enables them to work and earn a living, support themselves and their families. If we can support them to design, make and sell we are supporting them to earn, eat and live.”

The UKRI-GCRF research Hub was formed in 2019 and based at the London School of Economics. Middlesex is one of the partners and Dr Raina, also Associate Professor of Design and International Development, leads the project across four countries in South Asia (India, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and Pakistan).

"If we can support them to design, make and sell we are supporting them to earn, eat and live." Dr Neelam Raina, Middlesex University

Dr Raina’s project on Culture and Conflict is part of the Hub’s transformation and empowerment work stream, which is a collaboration between academic partners in the UK, civil society organisations in South Asia, and a UK based creative business.

It approaches peace building from the perspective of agency and empowerment. Connecting the vital role of sustainable income and livelihoods to the rebuilding of communities impacted by conflict and violence.

An exhibition at CSW67 on 14 March will showcase the work of crafts women who come from conflict affected areas of the four countries. This will include landscapes within which women practice craft making, tools and stories, songs and raw materials as well as actual products they have made through this five-year project. These products will be on sale. The exhibition, sale and talks contextualise how women use their skills to build bridges across conflict lines as peace builders while contributing to their communities.

The dramatic changes in Afghanistan in 2021 demonstrate how the projects need to adapt quickly to world events. After the fall of Kabul to the Taliban and the departure of NATO forces Dr Raina and her team reorganised the project in relation to the security situation and changing attitudes towards women and work, health and education. Women in Afghanistan are now not allowed in public spaces or work. This has plunged a large section of the population, in what is being called ‘gender apartheid’, into abject poverty.

The work of Dr Raina’s team, of making handmade goods continues to take place from the confines of the homes of the women in Kabul, Kandahar and Mazar-e Sharif.

Women are making crafts and will send their products for sale to the UK in the coming months allowing incomes to be generated from within the safety of their own homes. It is hoped that selling of these goods in the UK and in Pakistan, will allow a sustainable supply of income to reach Afghan women.

Find out more about the Gender, Justice and Security Hub project at Middlesex University which has also carried out a major study on displaced people in Sri Lanka.

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