KANDAHAR -- About 70 women, each sitting in front of a stove, are busy making bread in a large bakery in Kandahar city.
The bakery was established by Azizi, a private company in Kandahar city, to provide employment opportunities for destitute women.
The women receive a daily wage of about 200-250 AFN ($2.25-$2.80). They are the breadwinners of their households, as many have lost their husbands to war or natural causes and others have husbands who are either disabled or addicted to drugs.
They produce more than 6,000 loaves of bread daily, which the owner of the bakery sells in the market in Kandahar city.
Toorpaikay, 42, a mother of six, works in the bakery. Her husband, who was a farmer, was killed during fighting in Panjwai district, Kandahar province, two years ago.
"When my husband was alive, we made a living from our harvest," she said. "However, I couldn't continue farming after his death, and my problems in my life started from there."
"I can now earn 6,000-7,000 AFN [$67.50-$78.70] a month while working in the bakery," she said. "I used to have many economic problems, but now that I am working, my problems have been resolved to some extent. If I did not have the opportunity to work here, I do not know how I could make a living."
Razima, 42, works in the bakery to support her family because her husband is addicted to drugs.
She said that if the bakery had not been established, all the widows and destitute women who are working there would have been forced to beg to feed their children.
"I am very happy to work here," she said. "I repeatedly knocked on the doors of several offices and homes to find a job, but I could not find one. It is very difficult to be unemployed. If we do not work, we cannot buy food for ourselves and will suffer from starvation."
Despite harsh restrictions on women's work in Kandahar, Razima said she managed to save her children from starvation.
Setara, 38, works in the bakery every day from 6am to 12pm. She bakes more than 200 loaves of bread daily and earns 200 AFN ($2.25) for her day's work.
Setara's husband is addicted to drugs, and she has been responsible for supporting her four children for the past four years.
She said she has been greatly impacted by social restrictions and has to wear a burqa at work.
Despite the severe social restrictions and opposition to women's work, Setara said she was forced to work outside the home to save her children from starvation.
"I was desperate to find a job," she said. "Since I started working here, I no longer depend on others' support. My income from the bakery is sufficient, and I can now support my family."
"I buy flour, oil, rice and other necessities for my children when I get my salary every month," she said.
"I had to beg to find food for my children when I was jobless. But now that I have a job and can earn a living, I have been saved from begging and relying on others' support," said Setara.
Khairia, 58, is looking after her daughter-in-law and her four orphaned grandchildren. Her son, a police officer, was killed in fighting in Spin Boldak district, Kandahar province, three years ago.
She had to become head of the family after her son's death. Her husband passed away from an illness 10 years ago.
"I have to work here. If I do not work, my grandchildren will go starving," she said. "We pay 3,000 AFN [$34] a month for rent, and I have to work to make that money."
"When my son was alive, we were better off, as he was making money," she said.
"Our life has become miserable since his martyrdom. We encountered hardships and many problems since then. We even spent nights without food," she said.
Khairia said her living conditions have improved since she started working in the bakery. She said she is happy that she can work outside the home and save her family from depending on others' support.
Call for more jobs
Rohullah Mobarez, director of the women's bakery in Kandahar city, said he receives five or six applications daily from women seeking jobs in the bakery.
"There were 50 women working in our bakery until a month ago, but now that number has reached 70," he said. "We are working hard to expand our capacity so that we can employ more women and increase the number of positions to 100 within a month."
"Currently, the number of our employees is small because of limited facilities and budget. But we intend to hire up to 100 more destitute women in the coming months," he said. "Our goal is to provide employment for women who are the breadwinners in their households and suffering from poverty."
Mobarez said the women work up to six hours a day, and as soon as he can hire more employees, he will increase his bakery's production capacity to more than 15,000 loaves of bread daily.
Zarghoona, 36, a mother of six, is looking for work in Kandahar city.
She said her husband was a truck driver who lost his legs in an explosion on the Kandahar-Kabul highway four years ago, so he can no longer leave his home.
"I desperately need a job to feed my husband and children," she said. "I cannot find a job wherever I go and apply. I do laundry in my neighbours' houses one or two days a week and can earn only 300 to 500 AFN [$3.40-$5.60]" per day worked.
"I am the only one in the household who can work. If I do not work, my husband and children will die of hunger," Zarghoona said. "Our neighbours and relatives have nothing and cannot help us."
"Most women in Kandahar need to find a job. However, they have to endure poverty and hunger because they cannot go out because of the prevailing harsh restrictions and negative view of some about allowing women to work," she added.