Supporting women in Afghanistan
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Woven Strength: Supporting women in Afghanistan

This week marks two years since the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan. We’ve been supporting Australian-Afghan nonprofit ODS and its efforts to continue to provide skills, education and employment to oppressed women and girls in Afghanistan – including partnering on a campaign to sell the exquisite rugs that have been handwoven by the country’s most vulnerable.


At Canva, we embody our values daily. With a global presence in 190 countries, we're committed to using our voice, platform, and reach to uphold these guiding principles.

As one of the core values embraced by Canvanauts, 'Being a Force For Good' consistently drives our actions. It's a cornerstone of Canva's 'simple' Two Step Plan(opens in a new tab or window) and has been integral to our mission, culture, and DNA since inception.

Canva Two Step Plan showing step one fuelling step two and vice versa

Canva's 'simple' Two Step Plan

One opportunity for Canvanauts to live these values and contribute to Step Two is via skilled volunteering(opens in a new tab or window). As well as crisis relief, our project with Organisation for Development Solutions Inc(opens in a new tab or window) (ODS), an Australian-Afghan non-profit NGO, is an example of Canvanauts offering their wide-ranging skills to help an organization in need.

Afghanistan in need

In August 2021, Afghanistan faced a devastating setback with the forceful return of the Taliban, ushering in a dark era of gender apartheid. As Kabul fell under the occupation of Taliban foot soldiers, the already-limited public spaces for women and girls further diminished.

Overnight, the women of Afghanistan saw their constitutional rights stripped away: secondary schools and universities were closed to girls; women’s employment was limited to the healthcare sector; and travel and style of dress began to be policed again. Women could no longer freely go for a walk in the park.

Image of four women and a bay in traditional Afghani clothing

Under the Taliban, women's constitutional rights in Afghanistan have been stripped away.

The Taliban's oppressive policies restrict every aspect of women's lives, from their homes to their communities and society at large. Magnifying the impact, the absence of women from the workforce means less possibility for them to provide for their families.

In February 2022, Canva launched Aussies for Afghanistan(opens in a new tab or window), a two-week appeal to provide urgent relief for the millions of Afghans affected by this devastating humanitarian crisis.

We committed AUD $250,000 to the cause, working with multiple organizations to ensure we’re contributing funds towards initiatives that can be immediately deployed with the greatest impact.

A woman in traditional Afghani clothing holds a baby at a sink

Aussies for Afghanistan raised funds for millions of Afghans affected by the regime.

Supporting ODS

Also in 2022, Canva Foundation heeded the call for help and stood in solidarity with the Afghan people by supporting the Organisation for Development Solutions Inc(opens in a new tab or window) (ODS), an Australian-Afghan non-profit NGO operating at the grassroots level in Afghanistan.

$50,000 was provided by Canva Foundation, and ODS was able to establish the Women Employment and Empowerment Centre in Dasht-e-Barchi, Kabul. The Centre catered to one of the most vulnerable communities in Afghanistan, which had also been subjected to continuous targeted and genocidal attacks by the ISK-P.

Offering a comprehensive range of services to women and girls, the Center became a one-stop destination for employment opportunities in rug weaving, literacy classes, early learning and childcare services, psychological therapy and counseling, as well as training in tailoring skills.

A woman in a headscarf weaves a traditional rug in blue and red colours

The Women Employment and Empowerment Centre in Kabul offered employment in rug weaving; literacy and tailoring classes; childcare; and counselling.

From March until December 2022, the Centre operated at full capacity, providing support to over 150 women and girls who were either widows or the sole breadwinners for their families. The ripple effects of this support reached beyond the participants, benefitting more than 750 family members.

Tragically, on 25 December 2022, the Centre was forced to close its doors due to a new Taliban decree that banned women from working at any NGOs.

Nonetheless, the nine months of fruitful activities at the Centre resulted in the creation of over 58 exquisitely handmade Afghan rugs, the training of more than 100 girls in tailoring, and the provision of basic literacy education to over 50 women.

A woman in a headscarf taking lessons at the ODS Centre along with her toddler

Despite being forced to close its doors, the Centre had provided basic literacy skills to over 50 women.

And now, despite the challenges, the Centre's important work continues to provide employment, skills, and education to women and girls, albeit more discreetly, operating on a smaller scale across Kabul and the northern provinces.

Women operate discreetly at the now underground ODS Centre

The Centre continues to operate discreetly to support women.

Woven Strength, and ways to support

To sustain this underground operation, the hand-woven rugs created at the Centre have been shipped to Australia and are now available for sale.

Red and blue traditional Afghan rugs

Beautiful rugs handwoven by women at the Centre are now available for sale in Australia.

For the last 12 months, a small squad of skilled Canva volunteers have donated their ‘Force For Good leave’ to work on a brand and marketing campaign to support this initiative.

The ‘Woven Strength’ project involved the creation of a logo, social media campaign, brand assets, a landing page, the design of a sales catalog for the rugs, and support to fund printing the catalogs.

Cover of the Woven Strength style guide with the words Design Guide and images of rugs and weavers

Part of the design guide we created for the ‘Woven Strength’ marketing campaign.

The sale of the rugs will contribute directly to running educational programs, tailoring workshops, and purchasing materials. Rug weaving is considered a safe work practice for women to do in their homes, and can be an essential form of income.

Quote from Dr Farkhonda Akbari, co-founder of ODS: ODS is thankful to Canva Foundation for igniting hope to the women and girls of Afghanistan during their darkest moment of erasure of their rights, identity, opportunities, and aspirations – all at once.

There’s a list of women waiting to start rug weaving in their homes, but more funds are needed to purchase materials and cover salaries.

The Canva-ODS partnership stands as a testament to the power of compassion and collaboration in the face of adversity.

If you would like to support this initiative, please consider purchasing a beautiful rug or donating to ODS here(opens in a new tab or window). For a copy of the rug catalog, email odsaf.org@gmail.com.


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