In the last couple of years Afghan women have increasingly occupied businesses in major cities. The number of saleswomen and female shop owners have recently increased in malls, business centers, and markets around Kabul city. Many of them are educated and determined to continue their businesses. They run shops which sell lady accessories, garments, and cosmetics.
Shafiqa Ibrahimi, 23, from Ghazni province who holds a bachelor degree in business administration, has managed to open her own shop after working as a saleswoman for six months. She started her own business with an asset of AFN 80,000 and now it has increased to around AFN 180,000—after four months. “When we are working for someone else, we are treated in a way which is intolerable,” she says of her six month work experience as a saleswoman, recommending others to start their own business even with a very small amount of money. “I don’t like to work for someone else, I want to be independent.”
Despite being harassed by male customers and neighboring salesmen in conservative Afghan society, female shop owners and saleswomen are aspiring high to expand their business in the future and become renowned and professional traders.
Ibrahimi said she was harassed by the men, mostly salesmen working in her neighboring shops, in different ways. The salesmen running shops around her tiny shop repeatedly interrupted her to give them her phone number. Even in some cases she pushed them out of her shop by force.
She seemed determined to ignore harassment and continue her work to make further progresses. “Why you are doing sales work,” people often ask her. “Aren’t there other work for you to do rather than sales work.”
“My father strongly disagrees with my work and tells me that sales work is for street people,” Ibrahimi says, acknowledging that her husband, who now resides in the United States, was behind all of her successes. She intends to open a garment factory in the future. She wants to do his masters and Phd in economics.
Zahra Ghulami, 22, who came from Mazar-e-Sharif, holds a certificate in accounting and management. She has started her career as a saleswoman after completing a one month training course through the Promote– a USAID funded program for the empowerment of the Afghan women. Commenting about her daily interactions with customers, who are mostly women, Ghulami feels very satisfied and relax. “Some people get so happy when they come in and see a saleswoman… and some of them even wish that all the salespersons in a market were women.”
During the first three month of her work, she was paid by both the business owner and the Promote program. But now Ghulami is sufficiently empowered as her wage is equal to the total payments she received from the business and promote program. “I have made financial and career progress since then,” She said about the progress he made in last five months. “I want to continue my [higher education] in the field of economics during the night shift in private universities.”
She said she is hopeful to open a private business one day.
Of her AFN 8,000 salary per month, Ghulami, says she contributes 4,000 to the expense of her family.
Answering the question if the women were not allowed to work outside home, pretending a Taliban comeback, she said “I do not think this will be definitely in their hands to let us work somewhere, go outside, or get education”.
The saleswomen who are in older age are not complaining about harassment by male customers and salesmen as Zahra Khodadadi who roughly counts her age in 28 and an Iranian citizen, Sakina Haidari, who is 40 years old.
Khodadadi, was a five grade student of school when the Taliban came in power. Since then, she was unable to continue her education due the Taliban’s rule of prohibiting women and girls from schooling. She works as a saleswoman in a hand-made clothing shop in Bahar-e-Sarab Business Center. Khodadadi has been working as saleswoman for the last six months. Before doing sales work, she did any kind of embroidery, locally known as Khamakdozi, and handicrafts, at home.
“The number of customers are rising as every day passes,” she says, noting that she makes AFN 20,000 on a weekly basis.
Khodadadi and her husband who is a soldier with the Afghan National Army are both working now to provide the expenses needed for their three children who are school students. She recommend all other Afghan women to work outside and help their husbands in providing their family expenses.
Sakina Haidari, 40, is an Iranian citizen who is working as a saleswoman in a shop selling women’s garments. She has experience of sales work in both countries, Iran and Afghanistan. She left her country around nine years ago along with her Afghan husband who is now sick and jobless. Sakina says they were forced to leave Iran when her children were insulted and treated harshly in the country at school and elsewhere.
In Afghanistan, she, however, worked with different NGOs and organizations. She says the market and their sells have been negatively impacted by the low economy level of the people as they could hardly afford to buy high quality dresses like Turkish products.
“I have got familiar with many things like, the garment’s types and its quality. I feel so happy of this a bit progress,” she says. Haidari, however, complaints about the behavior of some of her customers. Comparing her sales work in Afghanistan and Iran, Haidari feels more troubled in Afghanistan as the prices are not fixed which pushes customers to make long bargaining.
Working outside home has helped Haidari to make a lot of good friends and she feels proud of contributing to her family income and of the saleswomen. “The women should never be afraid of working as it gives us a very happy feeling,” she said for the women.
Zahra Ferdaws, 19, who is a 10 grader, owns a cosmetics store in a newly established business center in the west Kabul. She is also a martial athlete which once helped her to avoid an armed robbery inside her shop. “The girls can have more sells than men in women’s accessories,” she says of her own expertise. Working in her own cosmetics store, Ferdaws, pays about 50 percent of her family expenses. And the rest is paid by her father. She started her business with AFN 180,000 and now her store has worth of AFN 400,000 goods inside it.