By Laila Yousufy
Until July this year, business was booming for Shirin Nazari, a female entrepreneur in the Afghan capital Kabul who opened her second store, a women’s clothing shop just months ago.
Then, in August, the Taliban came.
“The clothes I had in store—the tight jeans, the blouses—were appropriate before the Taliban. [With the Taliban in power,] no one wants those clothes anymore. So, I had to close,” said the 27-year-old Nazari who started her first business, a cosmetic store, a year ago with a $500-dollar investment.
The Taliban have not officially banned women from running their businesses, but most women-run businesses closed. Some, like Nazari, resumed their work after weeks, but customers have disappeared, in a collapsed economy where half of the population of the country is marching toward starvation and 95 % do not have enough to eat.
Before the Taliban took over Afghanistan in mid-August, women owned close to 2500 tax-paying businesses, and around 60 thousand unregistered businesses across the country, providing 130 thousand jobs, according to the Afghanistan Women Chamber of Commerce and Industry (AWCCI). The organization does not have any statistics on how many women owned businesses were closed or how much they have lost since August.
“Due to existing fear, when the provinces and the capital fell to the Taliban, women didn’t open their business for weeks, waiting to see the Taliban’s policy and announcement [regarding women’s businesses],” said Manizha Wafeq, the co-founder and president of AWCCI. She said the Taliban Doha office confirmed to AWCCI, the group wouldn’t have “any problem” with businesswomen.
“The Taliban have not personally threatened me, but out of fear, I wear a long-black dress when I come to [work] in the store,” Nazari said, adding that the laughter and happy hours she used to share with her friends in the store is gone since the Taliban came.
Susan Yousufi was forced to close her handicraft business when the raw material purchased in US dollars wasn’t selling and Afghani currently was dramatically losing its value against the US dollar. “I was buying the raw material in US dollars, but I wasn’t able to sell them. I had no choice but to close,” she told Rukhshana Media.
Her business was providing threads and fabrics to women who would handcraft scarfs, napkins, pillows, and bridal sets which would be sold in Yousufi’s store, in one of Kabul’s malls. “Before I closed my shop, many young women—university and school students were asking for weaving and other handicraft work. But I didn’t have any work to offer because I wasn’t selling,” said the 24-year-old Yousufi.
“If the market is back and I can sell my products, I would reopen the store. I want to continue my work” she said, adding the income was feeding her family of eight, who now rely on the daily wage of her father.
In the past four months, Nazari saw how 80 percent of her customers, all young women, disappeared. Her business, worth $7000 by the end of July, lost $2000 by early December, but she still kept her cosmetic store open.
“It was very hard to get here. Many men in the business didn’t want to work with us, thinking women can’t succeed in business,” said Nazari, who “had bigger dreams” as a businesswoman before the Taliban came. Now, she thinks about leaving the country.