Female entrepreneurs from across Afghanistan seek out foreign markets

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Dozens of Afghan businesswomen took part in an exhibition in Dubai remotely this week to promote carpets, jewelry, dried fruit, and other handmade goods as part of a push to access international markets after work options for women shrunk in Afghanistan under the Taliban administration.

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The three-day exhibition, held at a hotel in Dubai and supported by the United Nations Development Program, began on Thursday, and includes 26 female-run businesses.

Due to visa and travel restrictions, most business owners joined via video link from the Afghan capital, where they said some restrictions on women in public life as well as the country’s struggling economy were hampering their businesses.

Rayhana Karim, from Afghanistan’s Women’s Chamber of Commerce, attended the event in Dubai. She said they were working to create a brand for products, labelling them “Made by Afghan Women”, to reach consumers abroad wanting to support women’s rights.

“The end-consumers in Europe, the United States and the UAE, they want to support Afghan women, we need to provide them with an opportunity,” Karim told Reuters.

“You are supporting an Afghan woman when buying a quality product ... and you are enabling her to stand on her own two feet, to gain financial independence and to start to have a seat at the table.”

The International Labor Organization recently estimated that 25 percent of women’s jobs had disappeared since the Taliban took over as foreign forces withdrew in 2021. Many women, they noted, had turned to home-based businesses, which had stopped the female employment figures falling further.

The country’s economy has been severely hampered after foreign governments froze central bank assets and enforced sanctions on the banking sector.

The Taliban administration has banned many female NGO workers and some Taliban-run ministries do not allow female staff to work in their offices. Some, including the Taliban’s acting commerce minister, have said they support female-led businesses.

The businesswomen involved in the expo said they would not give up.

“We lost our hope when Afghanistan collapsed ... but Afghan women are fighters, we will struggle and fight. We will never allow losing our business to happen,” said Ziagul Jahani, who produces handmade clothes and carpets from central Parwan province.

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