HERAT -- The Afghanistan Women's Chamber of Commerce and Industry (WCCI) has opened new offices in the nation's western region as women continue to fight restrictions via entrepreneurship.
The WCCI opened offices in Farah, Ghor, Badghis and Nimroz provinces on June 14 to help expand women's entrepreneurial activities.
Dozens of female entrepreneurs in the western provinces participated in a discussion the same day at the Arg Hotel in Herat city to discuss ways to improve their entrepreneurship.
"With the opening of WCCI offices in other western provinces, we want to connect female entrepreneurs in those provinces with the centre to address their problems as soon as possible," said Salma Yusufzai, CEO of the WCCI.
The number of businesswomen in the country has increased by some 50% in the past year, according to the WCCI.
That number now exceeds 100,000, with most engaged in the production and exports of handicrafts and food items, Yusufzai said.
"Based on our research, between 50,000 and 80,000 female entrepreneurs were active across the country in 2022, but this number has exceeded 100,000 this year, which shows that more women are interested in entrepreneurial activities and their number is growing every day," she said.
"Most female entrepreneurs operate informally, but they are trying to formalise and expand their businesses by registering them," she added.
"Last year, 800 businesswomen in the country obtained business permits. More and more female entrepreneurs come to the WCCI every day for business permits."
Motivated to work
Oranus Arifi, 27, owns a small embroidery workshop in Firoz Koh that employs five other women.
Arifi said she is motivated to work to build a better future for herself and the other women and to achieve financial independence.
"Despite many restrictions in Ghor province, most women are interested in working outside their home and want to have a role in society," she added.
"Girls and women are highly motivated and are trying to build a source of income."
"With the opening of the WCCI branch in Ghor, women now have access to support from aid agencies," she said, adding that she hopes there will soon be a transformation in the work of female entrepreneurs in the province.
Through the WCCI, they are trying to bring businesswomen who work at home into society and facilitate the sale of their products, she said.
The opening of the WCCI branch in Badghis has given female entrepreneurs new motivation, said Attia Tokhi, 53, an entrepreneur in Badghis.
"From now on, we can cover female entrepreneurs in the districts. This is a positive development for women, through which they can connect with aid agencies and other female entrepreneurs in the country," she said.
"Currently, 200 businesswomen are active in Badghis. Most of them have created employment for other girls and women, saving hundreds of families from poverty."
"The more female entrepreneurs receive support, the more poverty and economic problems in society will decrease," said Tokhi.
Despite restrictions and social pressure, women are motivated to work and want to have an active role in society, she added.
Support from international aid agencies
Abida Ibrahimi, 52, a female entrepreneur in Nimroz province, has been receiving support from the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) for more than a year and trains girls and women who are deprived of education to create handicrafts.
She owns a tailoring workshop in Zaranj city, where she teaches women how to open their own workshops and earn income.
She said 20 women have already graduated from her workshop and have become their families' breadwinners.
"The women supported by IOM identify female entrepreneurs and innovators and refer them to IOM for vocational training. Some 84 female entrepreneurs were trained in business last year and have expanded their businesses," she said.
"Girls have turned to learning vocations since the closure of schools and universities for girls and women," she noted.
"Women who had some money have opened workshops, creating work opportunities for other girls and women," Ibrahimi added.
Support by aid agencies has motivated female entrepreneurs and helped them boost their businesses, said Behnaz Saljuqi, WCCI chair in the western provinces.
"In less than two years, nearly 400 female entrepreneurs have obtained business permits," she said.
"Most of these women are supported by international aid agencies."
"We were able to open three women-only markets in the last year in Herat province, thanks to the initiatives taken by female entrepreneurs," she added.
"In the near future, we will open female-only markets in other western provinces too, so women can work outside their homes," she said.