Despite challenges, Afghan female entrepreneurs reach global markets

Members of the Afghan all-girls robotics team make adjustments to a team robot in the practice area on July 17, 2017. Afghan women are considered among the most resilient in the world since they work against multiple odds and challenges. (AFP/Getty Images/file)
Updated 25 November 2018
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Despite challenges, Afghan female entrepreneurs reach global markets

  • There are now about 890 small and medium-sized, female-owned enterprises in different sectors across Afghanistan
  • Afghan women are among the most resilient in the world since they work against multiple odds and challenges., says official

KABUL: Naziya Basharmal set up a small tailoring facility at her home in Kandahar province, one of the most conservative parts of Afghanistan, with less than $800 in assets almost two years ago.

Since then, she has made more than $12,000 in profit, equivalent to at least two decades’ worth of income for the average civil servant in Afghanistan.

Encouraged by the income, she expanded her business and now has an army of 50 female tailors.

She sends the fabrics to their homes since many women who can forge world-famous embroidery cannot run their own shops due to cultural restrictions.

“You have to be confident when you take on this type of work. It looks tough at the beginning, but you’ll soon yield results,” Basharmal, who is in her mid-30s, told Arab News at the first National Women Entrepreneurs’ Summit in Kabul. 

The summit named 12 prominent businesswomen to watch in 2018, and gave these entrepreneurs a platform to share their experiences and the challenges they face, in addition to exploring ways to facilitate trade for women in a male-dominated society that has suffered decades of war.

Several hundred women entrepreneurs, some covered head to toe, took part in the two-day summit.

They came from different parts of Afghanistan. Some had traveled miles on long road trips, others by airplane. Some even came with their toddlers.

One prominent businesswoman at the summit was Mohsina Saqeb, a former award winner who runs Jama-e-Saqeb (Jama), a handicraft production company founded a year ago in Kabul.

Jama produces modern handmade embroidery infused with traditional design mostly for women’s clothing lines. The company also makes bags and purses.

Like others who attended the summit, several businesses are now after her designs, which have garnered appeal among different generations regionally and as far as the US, according to officials at the Afghan Commerce Ministry.

“My profits have jumped 50 percent since opening Jama and introducing this collection. Essentially, we’re empowering women to contribute to economic growth,” said Saqeb.

“Female entrepreneurship is a new phenomenon in Afghanistan. These new opportunities have instilled many with a renewed sense of hope. You just have to take the initiative.” 

Her designs will be on display at Dubai’s Global Village, a first for a female Afghan entrepreneur.

Zahra Nazari, a young and budding businesswoman from the central Bamiyan province who has run her own firm for more than 10 years, regularly exports her products to India, Turkey and Pakistan.

“Women entrepreneurs have managed to break the gender barrier here, and many now export to various parts of the world,” said Nazari. “There’s a good market for our services.”

Numerous products made or handled by women, including saffron, packaged dried fruit, carpeting, marble, handicrafts and jewelry, have garnered global interest.

According to local ministry estimates, there are about 890 small and medium-sized, female-owned enterprises in different sectors across Afghanistan.

The firms have reportedly created employment opportunities for almost 48,000 entrepreneurs in Afghanistan, most of them women.

The growing number of women getting involved in business prompted the ministry to set up a separate chamber of commerce for women last year, said ministry spokesman Musafir Kokandi.

“We aim to enable them to go from growth to growth,” said Kamila Sediqi, deputy minister of commerce and industry, adding that Afghan women are among the most resilient in the world since they work against multiple odds and challenges.

Women at the summit, nevertheless, voiced concern over numerous challenges, including high taxes, a lack of security and state-level corruption.

 

 

 

 


Bangladesh party says hundreds of supporters held before polls

Bangladeshi policewomen stand guard outside the office of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). (AP file photo)
Updated 27 min 27 sec ago
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Bangladesh party says hundreds of supporters held before polls

  • Ahmed denied this, saying the crackdown was a political “blueprint” by the ruling party to intimidate its opponents

DHAKA: Bangladesh’s opposition party Sunday said nearly 2,000 of its supporters have been arrested on trumped-up charges in a crackdown aimed at derailing its campaign just weeks from a general election.
The Bangladesh Nationalist Party, which is seeking to unseat Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on December 30, said at least 1,972 party officials and grassroots campaigners had been detained since the election was announced a month ago.
The arrests are yet another blow for a beleaguered opposition whose leader Khaleda Zia has been jailed for corruption and barred from running against arch-rival Hasina, who is seeking a third consecutive term.
The opposition boycotted the 2014 election, saying it was rigged against Zia in favor of Hasina and her ruling Awami League party.
BNP spokesman Rizvi Ahmed told AFP the majority of party cadres rounded up since late November in the police sweep were still behind bars.
“They have filed hundreds of ghost, or fictitious cases, against our party workers and leaders,” he said.
Another party official said at least 11 opposition candidates had also been detained before official campaigning begins Monday.
“Six of them are still in the jail,” said the official, who declined to be named.
Police have said those arrested had outstanding warrants or were wanted over alleged connections to ongoing cases.
Ahmed denied this, saying the crackdown was a political “blueprint” by the ruling party to intimidate its opponents.
“The government wants to hold a lopsided election. These arrests are just to create fear among the people, so that they don’t go to vote,” he said.
The opposition also accused police officials in Chittagong, a southern city, of campaigning on behalf of the Awami League. Police in the port city denied the allegations.
The arrests further hinder an already battered alliance of opposition parties, led by the BNP, which have seen their core leadership jailed on charges they say are fabricated.
Zia, a two-time former prime minister and friend-turned-foe to Hasina, was last month ordered by a court to stay behind bars for a decade for graft.
Her supporters say the charges are politically motivated to stymie Hasina’s chief political threat.
Zia’s son, a potential heir to the BNP throne, was sentenced in absentia to life behind bars while hundreds of other loyalists have been arrested or jailed, party officials say.
Just a month from the polls, the BNP has not announced an alternative candidate to run against Hasina, whose rule has been marred by allegations of rights abuses and intolerance for dissent.
Bangladesh has been led by either Zia or Hasina since the 1990s and the two powerful women have turned from close allies to fierce enemies.
Hasina has refused to allow a caretaker government to oversee the country during the campaign period.