The owner of a women’s handicrafts company shares the challenges she faces.
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Sakeena, not her real name, is an award-winning business owner from the city of Jalalabad, the capital of Nangarhar province. She runs a women’s handicrafts company where women produce hand-made, traditional Afghan clothes, bed sheets and cushions. Her company consists of four major divisions: sewing, cutting, designing and packaging.
In an interview with Afghan Witness (AW), Sakeena talks about the hurdles she has overcome since 2009 to build her own business. “It took me thirteen years and many challenges to reach this stage in my career,” she says. “I started from zero and gradually learned about marketing and management of a business company.”
However, since the Taliban takeover, Sakeena’s business has taken a downturn. She says that the Covid-19 pandemic and then the collapse of the Former Government has hit businesses hard. Sakeena was forced to reduce her workforce - all of whom were women - from 100 employees to just 40.
“Economic difficulties and poverty have become prevalent since the Taliban takeover, and prices of food and basic necessities are skyrocketing. In Jalalabad, food prices are double the prices in Kabul,” she adds.
Sakeena tells AW about her former employees and students who call her every other day and ask for work. “Most of the families whose male members were in the former army, police, civil service and the judicial system have lost their jobs,” she says, adding that this has a knock-on effect on her business, as people have little money to spend. Sakeena told AW that she has spent the small capital she has on keeping her business going.
Along with the deepening economic crisis, Sakeena says the Taliban’s restrictions on women have also impacted her and other businesswomen’s ability to work. “The previous government had no issues with what women wear and how they travel, but the Taliban have notified us to be accompanied by a male chaperon for distances of more than 72 kilometres,” she says, referring to a regulation that was issued by the Taliban in December.
“I frequently have to travel to Laghman province because most of my employees are based there, but I now have to take one of my sons with me whenever I travel,” she adds, explaining how she takes one of her sons out of school for the day in order to be able to travel to her worksites. She tells AW that she fears this could negatively impact her sons' school attendance and overall education.
Sakeena’s other major concern is security. Although she says that the rate of crimes committed by non-state actors had gone down since the Taliban takeover, she says that as an active and prominent woman within her community, she fears the Taliban authorities.
“The regime does not like women like me,” she says. “According to the Taliban, women are merely housewives.”
Asked about her aspirations for the future, Sakeena replies that she feels she has none: “I live in despair, and our future looks grim... I used to be a motivational speaker and always motivated other women to work hard in order to reach the level of success I have gained in life, but nowadays, I have no words to encourage them,” she says. "My workers come to me and desperately ask for work, but I send them back barehanded.”
At the end of the conversation, Sakeena says that she hopes the international community and the Afghan diaspora will help the people of Afghanistan, and that they are not forgotten.
Image link: https://www.flickr.com/photos/44825691@N08/6770654811 / Taken by NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan, marked with CC BY-SA 2.0.
Interview by Afghan Witness