Afghan women start businesses, help reconstruct a torn nation
Some 10,000 women have been trained as entrepreneurs, some of whom are now economically self-sufficient.
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For many women, entrepreneurial skills are also a gateway to a greater sense of independence, allowing them to feel more entitled to their rights.Skip to next paragraph
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"One of the things that suppresses women's rights is the economic dependence of women on their husbands. But if they've got economic independence, this suppression will end," says Estorai Hashemi, the deputy director of Herat's Women's Directorate, which helps women get their businesses off the ground.
As the business grows, old and damaging barriers are coming down.
"One of the problems that makes women depressed is that they're not able to see other people," points out Parlika. Now many women have access to the social sphere for the first time in their lives. "We have cases where the women will take the things they make directly to the market and sell it themselves," says Nooria Banwal, director of women's economic empowerment at the Ministry of Women's Affairs, adding that this was relatively unheard of in the past.
The benefits are not only symbolic. Women are actually earning enough to support themselves. Jamila Allah Muhammed, a mother of six in Kabul, started a small bakery in her home using a microcredit loan from FINCA, a global microcredit agency working in Afghanistan. It's little more than a stove built into the ground, but now she makes enough money selling bread to support her family.
There's also a positive trickle-down effect, with women-owned businesses providing employment and marketable skills to other women.
Fahima Qazizada, an employee of Ms. Mayardest's phone repair shop in Kabul, has lost track of how many cellphones she's fixed, but says she's sure she can solve just about any problem with the whirl of her soldering iron.
"This is the first time I've worked and I feel very happy," she says, blazing the wires on a circuit board.
But this is still a revolution in the making. Even in post-Taliban Afghanistan, the idea of women owning businesses and working is still somewhat taboo. For some it's even been life threatening. Parlika says she's been shot at twice in the past three years in the course of training some 500 women to be entrepreneurs. Tolerance is growing, she says, but she still feels insecure.
Others point out that some women, despite owning businesses, still lack control of their profits.
"When a woman makes a carpet, their brothers or fathers often take the money," says Ms. Banwal of the Women's Affairs Ministry. "Although it's spent on the family, it's still not going directly to them."
Things are improving though, she adds. Parlika for one is encouraged by this early progress. She hopes someday to make a museum out of the items Begum and others make, a testament to the women who worked for peace.
"We can see this is the first revolution of Afghanistan. Women beggars, orphans, who managed to make something of themselves after years of deprivation," she says, pointing proudly to a display of marble ashtrays.