The number of women entrepreneurs in Afghanistan is steadily rising with the support of a number of government initiatives, and Afghan officials are looking to increase those gains with additional support programs.
Recognizing the importance of encouraging female entrepreneurship for the economy, an independent body for Afghan women — the Afghanistan Women Chamber of Commerce and Industry (AWCCI) was established in 2017 to help encourage women’s investments in the war-torn country.
Talking on AWCCI activities and support for women entrepreneurs as well as steps taken for their capacity building so far, CEO and Co-founder of Afghanistan Women Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Manizha Wafeq called research, sales and investment supports, advocacy, raising awareness and capacity building for both existing and aspired entrepreneurs as the key works of her organization.
“We do research to provide data that can be used practically in developing Afghan Government and donor organization polices related to women’s involvement in the Afghan economy. the goal behind sales support is to make a tangible impact on women-owned businesses by increasing sales of products, through local and international exhibitions, differentiating Afghan women-made products in international markets, and the promotion of women-made products through the AWCCI’s communications channels, Wafeq told The Kabul Times daily.
She went on to say that AWCCI was also supporting investments to mitigate risks and open up opportunities for female investors in the Afghan economy by providing market insights, improving access to finance, and facilitating access to infrastructure.
According to Wafeq, there was advocacy and raising awareness too, aiming to ensure that the contributions of businesswomen in the Afghan economy are recognized and promoted, and the perspectives of Afghan businesswomen are considered in both Afghan Government and international donor policies and programs
“We do focus capacity building for both existing and aspired entrepreneurs and the objective is to provide training to Afghan businesswomen and entrepreneurs to increase their knowledge in various subjects related to business,” she added, saying AWCCI has and would like to maintain a A-Z guide for both expansions and start-up in both national languages Dari and Pashto. “Over 500 women attended trainings and were mentored during since 2017.”
Hinting on what role AWCCI played so far to help tackle obstacles before women entrepreneurs, in particular marketing of their products, Wafeq said that since April 2017 over 500 women participated in around 50 exhibitions outside and 60 exhibitions inside Afghanistan and around 10 have practically started exporting to outside of the country.
“Eight women-owned businesses for the first time could participate in six months Bazaar of Global Village in Dubai,” she said, adding AWCCI launched “Buy from Afghan women-owned Businesses” Campaign and conducted the first business matchmaking event among women of Kabul city, Parwan, Kapisa and Panjshir.
“We have established regular Bazaars in public spaces, created two Friday Bazaars in two Parks of Kabul which are open to women of the neighbouring provinces as well,” she added.
Pointing to active women businesses in the country, she said that there were over 1500 formal businesses in the country owned and led by women in almost all 34 provinces. “These businesses have invested over $80 million and have created over 70,000 jobs for both men and women,” she added, saying Afghan women were not only running handicraft and traditional businesses but were involved too in construction, exporting, manufacturing, services such as information technology, private schools and day cares, private health clinics, restaurants, beauty and fitness, media and marketing, travel agencies, logistics, freight forwarding and shipment and many more.
“Today, we have more than 20,000 informal businesses owned and run by women in all districts and rural areas of this country. Today, these informal businesses travel to cities to participate in the training, exhibitions and trade shows. They are learning to become formal businesses so they can be better connected.”
Answering another question on what opportunities and threats she could see that would affect women’s economic activities post US-Taliban deal, Wafeq said: “We would like the Afghan Constitution, free market policy, equality between men and women and the reservations for women’s political participation to be preserved.”
Wafeq demanded protection of freedom of movement and freedom of speech post US-Taliban deal. “We would like freedom of choice for women to run any and all types of businesses based on government regulations and the industry of beauty and fitness, the largest for women in the country need a special protection. We have over 1500 beauty salons and over 100,000 women employed by them which gives them a decent earning to run their families.”
Wafeq says they would firmly stand to protect their values and rights: “We would like for women or girls to earn without changing their identity to a man or boy. It only happened once in our history in 1995, but we will stand strongly for that not to happen again,” she said, asking Afghanistan allies to support their stance too.
“We, Afghan businesswomen, are moving forward, and we would like our allies to stand for it and do not compromise any bit of it,” she asked.