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Women in Afghanistan: The future ‘depends on them’

A woman walks with her child in her arms in Jalalabad, Afghanistan.
© WFP/Mohammad Hasib Hazinyar
A woman walks with her child in her arms in Jalalabad, Afghanistan.

Women in Afghanistan: The future ‘depends on them’

Economic Development

Despite facing formidable challenges, women-owned and run businesses in Afghanistan continue to demonstrate remarkable resilience, serving as vital pillars of economic stability and hope amidst adversity, a new UN report has found.

Released by the UN Development Programme (UNDP) on Wednesday, Listening to Women Entrepreneurs in Afghanistan, Their Struggle and Resilience, analyses data collected over the last three years, providing one of the most detailed views into the changing circumstances of women entrepreneurs in the country.

“Women entrepreneurs have demonstrated incredible grit, boldness and resourcefulness under the most dire of conditions,” said Kanni Wignaraja, UNDP’s regional director for Asia and the Pacific.

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Deepened discrimination

The research revealed that Afghanistan’s women entrepreneurs face a range of hurdles and high costs while doing business.  

Deepened discrimination and operational constraints coupled with a severely weakened financial system has forced 41 per cent of the over 3,000 women surveyed into debt.  

Almost three quarters of respondents also reported severe movement restrictions, such as not being able to travel even to local markets without a mahram (a male chaperone).

Only five per cent reported having received loans via banks or microfinance institutions.  

Finding ways to overcome challenges

According to UNDP, women are finding ways to tackle the challenges in Afghanistan, where a total 15.8 million people are food insecure and the employment rate for working age female members has halved to six per cent since last year.  

Entrepreneurship has surfaced as a lifeline for women and their families, it said, noting that that 80 per cent of women-led enterprises rely on their business revenues as their primary source of income.  

Women-run businesses also create much-needed job opportunities for other women.

UNDP alongside partners supported 75,000 micro and small businesses, which together have created employment opportunities for more than 900,000 individuals who in turn provide support to their families.  

Story of fortitude and hope

“Women have long been the driving force behind the welfare of households in Afghanistan and play a crucial role in sustaining local economies,” said Stephen Rodriques, UNDP Resident Representative in Afghanistan.  

He added that the agency continues to amplify their voices and highlight the benefit of investing in women.  

“Their courage and resilience in overcoming the odds tell a compelling story of fortitude and hope. They need international support, and this report provides additional insights on how we can support them. The future of Afghanistan depends on them,” he emphasised.