HERAT -- A handicraft exhibition that wraps up today (March 16) in Herat is showcasing the work of dozens of woman entrepreneurs from the province, even as they continue to face increasing social and employment restrictions.
The six-day exhibition, which kicked off Saturday, features 45 booths displaying handicrafts and woman-made products including clothes, handwoven carpets, jewelry and food.
Hosting one of the booths is Shabana Seena, who owns a jewellery-making shop in Herat city and employs close to a dozen women and girls in her enterprise.
At her shop, high school and university students who have been prohibited from attending school craft various items of jewelry -- earrings, bracelets, necklaces and anklets -- from a variety of gemstones.
Even though demand is very low and restrictions are impacting her work, Seena said she has not lost motivation and continues to persevere with her business.
"It is indeed a difficult time for women, but we stand united and fight together against the limitations in hope of victory," she said. "I hope I can regain the momentum to grow my business."
"I used to export my products to other provinces and even abroad during the previous government," she said. "But the situation is different now because exports have stopped and there is no market in Herat."
Afghanistan's economic crisis has hurt women's businesses, and they have lost many customers, she said.
"My business has not been that good over the past several months, and neither has my motivation, but I never gave up," said garment and cosmetics shop owner Shabnam Ghanizada.
"If I did not work hard, my business would have collapsed from the ongoing restrictions and other associated challenges," she said.
"They have imposed harsh restrictions to prohibit women from working, but these efforts have so far failed. We remain determined to work outside the home, and we will not let anyone confine us."
Ghanizada said she is committed to fighting against restrictions no matter how strict and harsh they might be.
Some woman entrepreneurs in Herat province have taken the initiative to create jobs for women who have been deprived of work and access to education.
Among them is Friba Sediqi, who owns a garment-making shop in Guzara district, Herat province, and employs about 25 female workers to make handicrafts, event clothes, bridal wear and traditional Afghan clothing.
She pays each employee -- most of whom are the sole breadwinners in their households -- a monthly salary of 5,000 AFN ($56).
"Market conditions have not been good over the past year or so, and people cannot buy clothes because of the ongoing financial crisis," Sediqi said.
She used to export traditional Afghan clothes to Europe and the United States, she added, "but now the export has completely stopped".
"We do have the capacity to produce and to export, but we lack appropriate co-operation and support from concerned partners," she explained.
Sediqi launched her business in 2016 with just 10,000 AFN ($113). Today, she said, she has cumulative capital of about 1.3 million AFN ($14,740).
"Despite the daunting challenges, we have not lost our motivation and will not stop our efforts," she said.
The number of woman entrepreneurs has been increasing in Herat, according to Behnaz Saljuqi, deputy chairwoman of the Herat Women's Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
"We have noticed that the ongoing restrictions against women's work in Herat have been ineffective for over the last year," she said, with the growing number of women returning to the marketplace encouraging others to do the same.
"Two markets dedicated to women have opened in Herat over the past five months," she noted, with another set to open next month in Herat city.
Women's initiatives such the exhibition are inspiring, said second-year Herat University student Sadia Hamid, who was forced to abandon her studies in law and political science and remain at home.
"This exhibition has given me great hope," she said. "I am very happy that women and girls can be active in society in the current situation."
"These efforts reaffirm that women do not want their achievements to be lost or their rights to be violated," she said.
"If we want to build a bright future, everyone must stand together and fight against restrictions by using their potential and capacity."
The exhibition encouraged other women and girls to come out and participate in society without fear, she said.
Herat city 11th grade student Zia Gul Taimuri said the exhibition opened a window of hope for women and girls who are confined at home and suffer from mental and emotional anxieties.
"When I entered the exhibition, I felt very good and I was very happy," she said. "I felt hopeful because I saw women work and actively participate in society by ignoring restrictions."
"I urge other women not to stay at home but to come out and work in society to stand on their own two feet. With these efforts, they can expand their business and give hope for life for other women."