On December 3, 2012 USIP convened a panel of Afghan female entrepreneurs for a conversation on the opportunities and challenges faced by women in business in Afghanistan.

Afghan Female Entrepreneurs Talk Business at USIP

Afghan female entrepreneurs came together at the United States Institute of Peace on December 3, 2012 for a conversation on the opportunities and challenges faced by women in business in Afghanistan. Shaima Atiq Kabir, president of Foxtail Logistics, Roya Mahboob, president of Citadel Software Development Company, and Kamila Sidiqi, president and CEO of Kawyan Professional Development Services, shared their personal stories and perspectives on a panel moderated by author and deputy director of the Council on Foreign Relations’ Women and Foreign Policy program, Gayle Tzemach Lemmon.

Each of the three panelists noted that women-owned enterprises confront many of the same challenges as businesses run by men, such as dealing with corruption and security risks. But female entrepreneurs must also overcome their own set of unique challenges, they said, such as cultural stigmas that see contracts awarded more often to men, limits on their ability to attend meetings and travel, and the lack of training opportunities that lead to jobs.

Nevertheless, the panel agreed that as the international presence in Afghanistan continues to decline, engaging Afghan women in business is more important than ever. “We have to think about how we can support people,” Sediqi said, noting that female entrepreneurs working in the private sector can help create sustainable jobs that empower other women.

Overcoming the barriers to women’s participation in the economy is possible, the women noted. Expanding access to higher education and vocational training, especially outside of Kabul, would be of great help, noted Shaima Atiq Kabir. “There are maybe four other ladies in the north, where I work who do what I do,” she said. Technology like mobile phones, mobile payments and the Internet have already made it easier for women to participate in business, she noted. The other panelists agreed. Roya Mahboob, who heads a software company she started while she was a student at Herat University, said that the IT field in particular was well-suited for women because they can work from home.

The women called on the international community to continue supporting education and security in Afghanistan even after the planned 2014 drawdown of international forces, noting that they must be present to preserve the peace and stability that enable opportunities for women.

The Institute’s Center for Gender and Peacebuilding will draw on the stories and experiences presented by the panelists for a forthcoming Peace Brief on women entrepreneurs in Afghanistan. Together with USIP’s Center for Sustainable Economies, led by Raymond Gilpin, an effort is underway to survey the international private sector companies that are working with women-owned businesses in post-conflict countries like Afghanistan. The survey hopes to better identify challenges and opportunities for women, including trade restrictions and tax codes that are problematic for small and medium enterprises. Results of the survey will be presented in Spring 2013.

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