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Afghanistan: amid constant limits and obstacles, women entrepreneurs in the country show great tenacity and ability to resist

ROMA – While women in Afghanistan are increasingly faced with limitations and restrictions, they demonstrate remarkable resilience when running a business. Women-owned businesses are a vital pillar of the country’s economic stability, as revealed by a new report from the United Nations Development Program (UNDP): “women entrepreneurs in Afghanistan, their struggle and their resilience”.

The restrictions. Over the past two years, Afghan women have faced numerous challenges and economic barriers. The decrees imposed by the Taliban authorities, in fact, prevented women from accessing formal education from primary school to university, banned work in beauty salons, which employed 60 thousand people throughout Afghanistan and imposed restrictions to female employment across a range of sectors. UNDP estimates suggest that restrictions on women’s employment could lead to an annual reduction in GDP of between 3 and 5 percent, translating into an economic impact of US$600 million in a country struggling already with extreme poverty thresholds due to both the consequences of war and those of climate change.

Getting into debt to work. The discrimination imposed by the Taliban regime and the numerous concrete constraints placed on the lives of working and non-working women, together with a seriously weakened financial system, have forced 41 percent of the over three thousand women interviewed by UNDP to go into debt. Three-quarters of the people interviewed also reported that they have been subjected to a series of restrictions on movement for almost three years now: for example they cannot go to local markets without a mahram, or a male companion. Only 5 percent of women entrepreneurs managed to obtain loans through banks or microfinance institutions. With this report, therefore, the United Nations certifies once again that life in the Asian country is very difficult, and not just for women. In Afghanistan, a total of 15.8 million people suffer from food insecurity and the female employment rate has halved this year, almost 6 percent. In this very bleak picture, however, women’s entrepreneurial ability emerges as a lifeline. 80 percent of businesses led by women – we read in the dossier – produce corporate revenues which are the main source of income for families.

Opportunities for other women. Businesses run by women also create job opportunities for other women. The UNDP, together with other organizations working in the area, supports 75 thousand micro and small businesses, which together have provided job opportunities to over 900 thousand people, who in turn are able to support their families.

Local markets. Over the years, the country has faced a series of disasters, including droughts, floods and earthquakes, which have had a significant impact on productions once important to the local economy, such as honey, dried fruit and nuts. Furthermore, the migration of skilled workers has particularly affected sectors such as carpet weaving, clothing and handicrafts. Women who own and manage businesses in these sectors have highlighted the urgent need for people with specific training skills. Furthermore, suppliers, shopkeepers and wholesalers are reluctant to deal and engage professionally with women because they fear retaliation from the Taliban authorities. This aspect constitutes an obstacle for women entrepreneurs in sectors that were once vital, such as the production of honey, the trade of precious stones, the harvesting of saffron, dried fruit, nuts, in the field of clothing and handicrafts. The 2024 survey conducted by UNDP on small businesses led by women confirms this: 32 percent of those interviewed, in fact, cite gender discrimination as the main problem in accessing markets.

Employment data. In 2023, female employment decreased by almost half, while male employment increased proportionally by 11 percent, as a result of the impact of the bans placed by the de facto authorities on businesses led by women. Families that include at least one employed woman tend to earn more than those without working women and when the woman loses her job, income can decrease by 50 percent. Forbidding women from working, therefore, means reducing the earnings of 5.3 million Afghan families by an average of 6 percent.

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– 2024-04-21 20:13:15

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