THROUGH her clothing brand Ghan Fashion, Sydney-based designer Lida Mangal is helping Afghan women maintain financial stability as poverty and uncertainty increases under Taliban control.
Ms Mangal creates both vintage and contemporary Afghan clothing and the designs are manufactured in a factory in her home country of Afghanistan employing only women.
“I have 10 employees back in Afghanistan, they are mostly single mothers, and they are the ones who are behind my designs,” she said.
Ms Mangal is dedicated to keep Afghan women in jobs, given the grim reality for those no longer allowed to work since the Taliban regained power this year.
Before the fall of Kabul, Afghan women were highly active in business sectors, with many working in handicrafts as designers or in the export and import of Afghan handicrafts to overseas.
Now, financial stability is a critical tool for Afghan women to maintain autonomy over their choices.
“Because we don’t have social support in Afghanistan, the majority of females are fully dependent on their male counterparts at home,” said Ms Mangal.
“For example, once you’re a widow in Afghanistan, and you have a brother in law, most families prefer to force the woman to marry the brother in law.
“If she’s financially independent, she can be a voice for herself and say no, I can look after my family and she can choose what she wants.
“In that sense, if I can support at least 10 women, single mothers, they can choose what they want to do and they will not be going through hell.
“Because the majority of them wouldn’t be marrying young individuals, they will be marrying someone who already has a wife or wives.”
Before moving to Australia, Ms Mangal worked as a human rights activist and a gender advisor, advocating for woman’s rights in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
During her time working for an NGO in Pakistan designing and producing garments, she noticed the local women only used dark colours such as black and brown for the designs.
“I asked them why they always prefer dark colours and they said because bright colours are attractive to men and we are not allowed to be attractive to men by religion and also by tradition,” Ms Mangal said.
“I really got upset and shocked, and I told them religion doesn’t care about what you wear; it’s mainly about you, it’s coming from what’s inside you.”
Through Ghan Fashion, Ms Mangal hopes she can help change the mentality of shame and stigma that Afghan women often face.
She loves working with colours and the bold shades of red, green, gold and fuchsia throughout her designs are both a celebration of Afghan culture and a statement on Afghan women’s expression of identity.
“Beauty is for everyone, so I am trying to change this way of thinking that we are always dominated by our male society.”
Ms Mangal credits her parents as the inspiration that drives her passion for supporting women and giving back to her community.
“My mother was a teacher, very well educated and my dad too, he got his education from the US,” she said.
“They were always advising us to get an education and support our community.
“My whole family, would question my parents and say, [your daughters] will belong to another family, why are you investing in them?
“My parents would say we’re investing in a person, in a human; she will stand on her own feet.”
Even as a young girl, Ms Mangal recognised the way women in her community were treated as subordinate to the men.
This was especially evident in rural areas of Afghanistan and it pained her to see young girls like herself treated with such indifference.
“Once I went to one of the remote areas to visit our relatives, and I asked their children if they are going to school,” she said.
“They said no, we are not allowed to go to school because we are female and that really made me very upset.”
Through her advocacy work and now her entrepreneurial venture with Ghan Fashion, Ms Mangal is working towards a future where Afghan women have freedom of choice.
“I want them to leave the young generation to decide for themselves what they want, in terms of their education, their social life, whom they want to marry,” she said.
“We are not to force them, we are not to sell our daughters for money and marry a young girl to a 56-year-old man because he’s a rich man.
“These rituals are not acceptable by international law, as well as Islam.
“I want changes in these rituals because this is not healthy, this is not right, it’s abuse.”
Ms Mangal hopes to continue growing Ghan Fashion to showcase Afghan vintage designs in Australia and provide greater employment opportunities for Afghan women.
“I will always support Afghan women, I want to support the disadvantaged women and I want to help them raise their voice and be independent financially, mentally and physically.”
Jessica Roberts is a Masters of Journalism and International Relations student at Monash University. She is interested in advocating for women’s empowerment, amplifying the voices of marginalised communities and creating a society more inclusive and welcoming of minority groups. Jessica is passionate about writing stories that help make a difference.