Leadership Council for Human Rights

~ Feet in the mud, head in the sky ~

Monday, March 27, 2006

Empowering Afghan Women Entrepreneurs

March 27, 2006
Washington DC – Director of Women in Development Unit, Chemonics International, Mary Hill Rojas, introduced panelists Farida Azizi, Independent Consultant, formerly of Vital Voices; Mariam Nawabi, Afghan American Chamber of Commerce; and Marilee Kane, USAID (EGAT/WID), to discuss the present state of women entrepreneurs, how they have progressed, and methods of continuing the empowerment of Afghan women.

Azizi gave much attention to what she called “sexist programs,” that oppress women from furthering their entrepreneurial development. She said women have no income to pay back their loans. To fix the problem, she suggested that women should be provided with communications training, online marketing, and mentoring programs specifically for emerging business women, access to media service for ads, and help with contracting, purchasing, and advance deposit. She said there should be more women entrepreneurs in the near future because women are “accountable and reliable,” and men are busy with war and agriculture.

Nawabi emphasized the fact that women are the majority gender in Afghanistan. Now, because of the war, they are also the primary household leaders. Yet, 80% are still illiterate. In the last 2-3 years, the women have stepped up, Nawabi said, putting Afghanistan high in the charts for the repayment rate of micro loans. Women’s Enterprise Development (WED) revolutionized women and business. The challenges faced for women entrepreneurs are: lack of human capital, lack of resources such as loans (which are a challenge even for men), lack of financial capital, lack of assets, and cultural constraints.

Nawabi said that some business women are not as culturally constricted as before, because their husbands are noticing the effect their money has on the household, and thus they are able to travel around without a man. Nawabi introduced her plan of creating an entrepreneur “incubator.” She said this would be a business support process which teaches the sharing of both cost and resources. She added that this would be a “practical hands on approach.” Nawabi concluded by saying when dealing with the empowerment of women in Afghanistan, it is important to “look at the outputs versus the inputs,” to look at what has been changed rather than always looking at what needs to be done. She proposed a method to “shy away from just women and NGOs,” and to look for business men who are willing to help Afghan women as well.

A program involving veterinarians training women working with poultry to take care of chicks until they were chickens, and then giving fertilized eggs back to start the cycle all over again was a “very successful” system, Kane said. In 2003 the program was stopped so women could be linked to other businesses for more opportunity. Kane said, “We see groups of women as homogeneous, but it’s not true”; some women work better in areas that others do not. Kane said she believed the chicken system should not have been interrupted. She suggested, women should be given access to business skills and advice, English skills, financial skills, and should be provided with more opportunities to work in different sectors.


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