During the Taliban’s rule, women in Afghanistan had very restricted rights and could not work, but their rights have significantly improved since then. As a result, more women have entered the workplace and have begun their first jobs or started their own businesses. An unprecedented amount of Afghan women participate in the formal private sector economy, according to a Building Markets Survey.
The survey drew information from 1,424 women. This study found that the majority of the respondents entered the workforce within the last decade. Many of the working women are younger and there are still women who want to enter the workforce. It was also found that working in non-traditional sectors has become more appealing for both women business owners and employees.
The survey results further state that access to higher education has helped women confidently enter the workforce with necessary skills. However, despite their competency, these women expressed that the greatest difficulty they face is not being taken seriously in the business world.
Since 2001, the Afghan government and international community has invested resources to develop more female leaders in politics, business, and civil society, according to a 2015 United States Institute of Peace report. Women are underrepresented in the private sector and have no role in economic production. Furthermore, they often experience insecurity, harassment, immobility, religious extremism, and corruption.
Women like Roya Mahboob – one of TIME’s Top 100 in 2013 – have greatly helped advance Afghan women’s rights in business. In 2010, Mahboob developed an IT consulting firm, Afghan Citadel Software Co., and she has since built 40 free Internet-enabled classrooms in Afghanistan, since Internet cafes are unsafe for women. She also founded a multilingual blog and video site where women can tell their stories.
Only 16 percent of women ages 15 to 64 in Afghanistan participate in the workforce, according to the Council on Foreign Relations. Women also often do not receive pay or only receive a few paid hours. Participation in the workforce is much higher in rural areas due to opportunities in the agricultural sector. Generally, jobs in the public sector – health care, teaching, and public service – are more acceptable for women. Some women cannot easily work in the private sector due to household responsibilities and a lack of financial decision-making power.
Many Afghan women work in restaurants and a couple women-only places have opened in Afghanistan. One of the restaurants, Scranton Restaurant, was made to be a place where women can safely socialize. Women can host meetings, parties, and grab coffee with each other where men are not present.
Educated women dressed in modern clothing also eat at another restaurant, Bost, without a male chaperone. The restaurant currently employs 17 women from the Afghan Women Skills Development Center Shelters, an organization that shelters victims of gender-based violence and also provides training and education for women. Homira Kohzad, who helped set up the restaurant, described how women often feel unsafe on the streets due to the prevalence of harassment. She hoped the restaurant could provide a safe haven for women.
“I wanted to have a place where I could feel safe, where I could enjoy my time sitting in a corner, reading, writing, or even listening to music without getting disturbed or being stared at,” said Kohzad.
With these new safe places for women to work and learn valuable business skills, women in Afghanistan are moving toward a more equal society where they can work in private sectors.
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