By Terry Neese, longtime NAWBO member and past NAWBO National Board President and founder and CEO of The Institute for Economic Empowerment of Women
Imagine if a government official came to your business one afternoon and said: “Pack up your equipment. We are shutting you down. You can no longer work here, because you’re a woman, and a woman’s place is in the home.”
This is exactly what’s happening to women in Afghanistan right now.
The number of Afghan women who own and run businesses grew from zero in 2002 to around 57,000 in 2020, including both licensed and unlicensed businesses. This was remarkable progress in less than two decades. Since The Institute for Economic Empowerment of Women (IEEW) launched our PEACE THROUGH BUSINESS® program there 15 years ago, we have had more than 600 women business owners graduate. We witnessed first-hand the growth of women in business and know stories of thousands of women from Kabul and other provinces who created businesses in various non-traditional and male-dominated sectors such as IT and media services, logistics and construction companies and private clinics.
We remember Amena from Badakhshan, who started a successful dairy processing and packaging company. We clearly see Nazifa from Parwan, who started her company making fresh apple juice and packaging it with environmentally friendly materials. We remember how Marghuba in Kabul was developing plans to expand her organic soap manufacturing company through an online sales platform.
All of these women had hopes and dreams for their businesses and for their futures. Now, they are struggling to survive. After 20 years of working and owning businesses, 20 years of educational achievement, 20 years of tasting freedom, hundreds of thousands of Afghan women have lost it all within a matter of weeks.
IEEW has been working diligently to continue supporting Afghan women during this difficult time of transition for their country. We have worked closely with the U.S. Department of State, Oklahoma Governor’s office, an Oklahoma Senator’s office and others on evacuation efforts, which are still ongoing. We are working to shift to a fully virtual PEACE THROUGH BUSINESS® program in Afghanistan so that Afghan women business owners can continue their education. Additionally, we are exploring opportunities for an online sales platform to expand the market for Afghan women business owners.
IEEW has played a significant role in building a fundamental base for Afghan business owners, and we will not stop now. There is an urgent need for all of us to join together to continue supporting what we have built so we do not lose momentum on the gains that were made. We can continue educating Afghan women. We can continue helping Afghan women sell their products online. We can continue advocating for and raising the voices of Afghan women. This is our hope for the future of Afghanistan and for all of the incredible women business owners we know. Please join us by donating, following us on social media for updates and spreading the word about this important work.
Learn more about IEEW here.
About the Author
Terry Neese, the Founder and CEO of The Institute for Economic Empowerment of Women, has had a long-time relationship with NAWBO. After becoming a member in 1986, Terry served as National Board President of NAWBO in 1990 and has continued her support of NAWBO every year since then.