HERAT -- After months of despair and restrictions, female entrepreneurs in Herat have once again normalised their businesses.
In the latest move to expand and develop female-owned businesses, the Herat Women's Chamber of Commerce and Industry (WCCI) opened a permanent market in a women-only park in Herat city on June 10.
The objective of establishing this market is to encourage female entrepreneurs and to create a market for selling their handicrafts and other products, said Nargis Hashemi, director of the Herat WCCI.
"Women are highly motivated and will not accept any restrictions on their work," she said. "These women want to demonstrate to the world that Afghan women will continue their lives and work, but they need support."
"Women had lost hope ... but they have returned to society and created opportunities for themselves," Hashemi said.
More than 200 Herat province women are formally engaged in entrepreneurial activities, on top of more than 1,500 who are involved in informal entrepreneurial activities, according to the Herat WCCI.
These women produce handicrafts and clothes, process agricultural products, create art and engage in other business activities.
The WCCI is working diligently to resume the export of Afghan women's handicrafts abroad, Hashemi added.
Afghan women's handicrafts used to be exported to the United States and Europe, but trade has stopped in the past year.
Working towards a better future
Entrepreneurial women who have made great progress in the past two decades are trying to safeguard those gains.
Despite all the pressure and restrictions, women have not backed down and have continued their efforts for a better future, said Fahima Yousufi, a 23-year-old resident of Herat city.
The young entrepreneur runs a traditional women's clothing workshop that employs 10 women.
Tougher restrictions on women encouraged her to work with more motivation than before, she said.
She urged other women to be active in society instead of sitting at home.
"The household economic situation has worsened, and sitting at home is not practical," she said. "Women have to work in society and rescue their families from poverty. With the creativity they have, women can work and earn an income."
"There are many efforts by some circles to deprive women of all their rights, but we will not allow these circles to stop us from our work and progress," Yousufi added.
Afghan women have never bowed down to restrictions and they will never give in to them going forward, said Sadeqa Sadeqyar, 47, an entrepreneur in Herat.
"Our business activities stopped for a few months... but we resumed them four months ago," she said. "Our sales have improved, and women are interested in purchasing domestic products and handicrafts."
"While women are barred from working for the government and engaging in social activities, female entrepreneurs are fighting restrictions and continuing their businesses," she said. "We will not allow anyone to restrict us to our homes and undermine our progress."
Most women engaged in entrepreneurial activities and handicrafts are the breadwinners of their families and carry many responsibilities, Sadqyar said.
Need for women to work
The exclusion of women from work and economic activities is compounding the economic crisis in Afghanistan, according to some economic analysts.
Women make up half of the country's population and it needs to utilise their capabilities to improve the economic and social situation, said Mohammad Yaqub Mashouf, an economist in Herat city.
"It was witnessed in the last couple of years that many women had stable businesses and were able to create jobs for other women," he said.
"Laying off women from government agencies and restricting them in society have increased household poverty," he added. "These women were the breadwinners of their families but now face many problems after losing income."
It is impossible to exclude women from social and economic activities in today's world. Any effort to this end is doomed to fail, Mashouf said.
Without the active participation of women in business activities, Afghanistan's economy will never come out of its crisis, said Najla Stoda, an economist in Herat city.
"Handicrafts produced by Afghan women have buyers across the world. If supported and properly exported, they will add much revenue to Afghanistan's economy," she said.
"Afghan women faced many challenges in the last 20 years and are now also bravely fighting draconian restrictions," she said.
"No power can eliminate women from society."
Women are the same members of society as males are. Women not only have a compulsion, needs, and the right to live, but they must have their income to meet their needs to some scope. Due to the war in Afghanistan, there are many families where the women have lost their husbands and young sons, so women are obliged to earn food for their small children and families. Considering this problem, getting an education would be better for the female class of society to pay attention to attending vocational courses. In this regard, all these things are possible when the authority open the doors of girls' schools and the developed countries assist.Reply