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

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.





Australia’s conservative coalition wins surprise 3rd term

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaks to the media as he arrives at the Horizon Church in Sutherland in Sydney, Australia, May 19, 2019. (REUTERS)
Updated 19 May 2019

Australia’s conservative coalition wins surprise 3rd term

  • Govt claims miraculous result, but unclear if can form majority
  • Morrison govt polls strongly in Queensland state

CANBERRA, Australia: Australia’s ruling conservative coalition won a surprise victory in the country’s general election on Saturday, defying opinion polls that had tipped the center-left opposition party to oust it from power and promising an end to the revolving door of national leaders.
“I have always believed in miracles,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison told a jubilant Sydney crowd.
He compared his Liberal Party’s victory for a third three-year term to the births of his daughters, Abbey, 11, and Lily, 9, who were conceived naturally after 14 years of in vitro fertilization had failed. His wife, Jenny Morrison, suffered endometriosis.
“I’m standing with the three biggest miracles in my life here tonight, and tonight we’ve been delivered another one,” he said, embraced by his wife and daughters.
Opposition leader Bill Shorten had earlier conceded defeat as the coalition came close to a majority in the 151-seat House of Representatives, where parties need a majority to form a government. Vote counting was to continue on Sunday.
“I’m disappointed for people who depend upon Labor, but I’m glad that we argued what was right, not what was easy,” Shorten told his supporters.
Shorten would have become Australia’s sixth prime minister in as many years. He said he would no longer lead Labor after six years at the helm.
The tight race raised the prospect of the coalition forming a minority government. The conservatives became a rare minority government after they dumped Malcolm Turnbull as prime minister for Morrison in an internal power struggle last August. The government then lost two seats and its single-seat majority as part of the blood-letting that followed.
An unpopular single-term Labor government that was voted out in 2013 had been the only previous minority government since World War II.
Opinion polls prior to Saturday’s election had suggested that the coalition would lose and that Morrison would have had one of the shortest tenures as prime minister in the 118-year history of the Australian federation.
Morrison had focused his campaigning on polling that showed while Labor was more popular than the government, the prime minister was more popular than Shorten.
There was so much public confidence of a Labor victory that Australian online bookmaker Sportsbet paid out 1.3 million Australian dollars ($900,000) to bettors who backed Labor two days before the election. Sportsbet said 70% of wagers had been placed on Labor at odds of $1.16.
Another betting agency, Ladbrokes, said it had accepted a record AU$1 million wager on Labor.
Shorten, who campaigned heavily on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, said Saturday morning that he was confident Labor would win, but Morrison would not be drawn on a prediction.
Morrison is the conservatives’ third prime minister since they were elected in 2013.
Tony Abbott, who became the first of those three prime ministers in the 2013 election, conceded defeat in the Sydney seat he has held since 1994.
Polling suggests climate change was a major issue in that seat for voters, who instead elected an independent candidate, Zali Steggall. As prime minister in 2014, Abbott repealed a carbon tax introduced by a Labor government. Abbott was replaced by Turnbull the next year because of poor opinion polling, but he remained a government lawmaker.
A maverick senator who blamed the slaughter of 51 worshippers in two New Zealand mosques on the country’s immigration policies also lost his bid for election.
Fraser Anning was the target of widespread condemnation for railing against Muslim immigration within hours of the mass shootings in the New Zealand city of Christchurch in March. He faced more criticism later for physically striking a teenage protester who cracked a raw egg on his head and was censured by the Senate.
Senior Labor lawmaker Chris Bowen said his party may have suffered from what he conceded was an unusual strategy of pushing a detailed policy agenda through the election campaign.
Morrison began the day Saturday by campaigning in the island state of Tasmania, where the Liberals appeared to have gained two Labor-held seats. He then flew 900 kilometers (560 miles) home to Sydney to vote and to campaign in Sydney seats.
Shorten campaigned hard on more ambitious targets to reduce Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions.
The government has committed Australia to reduce its emissions by 26% to 28% below 2005 levels by 2030. Labor has promised a 45% reduction in the same time frame.
Shorten, a 52-year-old former labor union leader, has also promised a range of reforms, including the government paying all of a patients’ costs for cancer treatment and a reduction of tax breaks for landlords.
Morrison, a former tourism marketer, promised lower taxes and better economic management than Labor.
Both major parties promised that whoever won the election would remain prime minister until he next faces the voters’ judgment. The parties have changed their rules to make the process of lawmakers replacing a prime minister more difficult.
During Labor’s last six years in office, the party replaced Prime Minister Kevin Rudd with his deputy Julia Gillard, then dumped her for Rudd.