KABUL -- The Women's Chamber of Commerce and Industry (WCCI) recently held a five-day trade fair ahead of Eid ul Fitr to encourage Afghans to buy locally made goods and to showcase Afghan women's achievements over the past 20 years.
The "Buy From Us" trade fair opened on April 27.
"The objective of the fair was to promote women entrepreneurs' handicrafts by marketing them and encouraging people to purchase local handicrafts," said Roya Hafezi, interim director of WCCI.
"The intended goal is to save Afghan women's declining businesses as well as create employment for women who have lost their jobs."
"We are trying to reopen those female-owned businesses that were forced to close because of economic problems and lack of markets," she said. "We need the government's and international community's assistance to do so, and we call on them to support businesswomen."
WCCI plans to provide training for businesswomen in designing clothes, jewellery and other handicrafts so that their products can meet current standards and international market requirements in order to sell them in foreign markets, Hafezi said.
Businesswomen expressed hope that female-owned firms will again flourish.
"The latest developments in the country led to a significant decline in women's businesses and affected their economic situation," said Mary Amiri, CEO of Amiri Handicrafts, who was participating in the fair.
"Of the 50 female employees in my company, only 10 are still working, while 40 of them, who were supporting their families, lost their jobs," she said.
"Holding such fairs can encourage customers to an extent to buy Afghan products and support our firms, which are in a very dire situation," Amiri said.
"Women have a critical role in social and economic growth," she added. "We call on the international community to support Afghan women as it used to in order to save society from the current cycle of unemployment and poverty."
Mariam Haseeb, CEO of the Mursal clothes company, showcased women's handicrafts at the fair.
"Despite the decline in sales from poverty and unemployment in the country and the worsening market situation, it is the tradition of Afghans to buy new clothes for Eid," she said. "Therefore, we have brought our new products to the fair so that Afghan women can buy them."
"Women make up half of society. If their jobs are taken from them, half of society will be affected and paralysed," Haseeb said.
"But if women are allowed to work, do business and participate in the government, not only will half of society prosper but the economic situation of the country as a whole will improve as well."
Afghan women hopeful for future
"Afghan women made historical and unprecedented achievements in entrepreneurship, investment and handicrafts in the past 20 years," said Hafezi of WCCI.
"By launching such fairs across the country, we are trying to protect those achievements," she said. "Therefore, we reactivated WCCI, which had ceased operations nine months ago."
"Based on data from 2020, Afghan women had established 54,500 small, medium and large enterprises," she said, adding that now the number is likely smaller. "Some female entrepreneurs have now left the country."
"Woman-owned enterprises had good opportunities in the past two decades," said Aamena Mirzaye, an entrepreneur and participant of the fair. "I started my small handicraft business 15 years ago by investing 2,000 AFN ($23). It is now worth 7,000,000 AFN ($82,000)."
"With their efforts and the international community's support, Afghan women had nearly reached self-sufficiency," she said. "We are hopeful that their achievements will be protected."
Younger Afghan women also hope the achievements of the past two decades will not be lost.
"The past 20 years offered good opportunities for Afghan women," said Zarifa, 20, a Kabul resident who visited the fair on the first day to buy clothes. "They have made unprecedented achievements in education, business and economic growth."
"The economic situation [now] is unfortunately not good," she said. "But I have come to the fair today to buy clothes prepared by Afghan women for Eid."
"I urge all Afghans to buy local products instead of buying foreign and brand name ones in order to improve our collapsing economy."