Voices: A budding entrepreneur in Jawzjan, Afghanistan

"After the training [...] we learned how to go out and purchase the materials ourselves. I realized that we have the ability to do what men do.” - Shakila, beneficiary of UNOPS training, Afghanistan.

Shakila started working with handicrafts when she was fourteen, after finishing high school.  Since then, she has honed her skills at sewing intricate designs and knitting the most difficult of patterns. Today, Shakila owns her own handicraft business, producing and selling knitwear, hand-embroidered clothes, blankets, pillowcases and carpets in the province of Jawzjan, Afghanistan.

But getting started was not easy. Lacking basic business skills and knowledge, Shakila struggled to grow her business.

"I did not know how to manage my staff and purchase raw materials, I wasted a lot of time on book keeping – counting how much I lost and gained," she explains.

Shakila is one of 48 Afghan women trained under a capacity building programme for local entrepreneurs, as part of the eight-year Rural Access Improvement Project. Funded through the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida), this programme seeks to empower women in the country's Northern provinces by teaching them essential entrepreneurial skills, to promote job creation and gender equality. In addition to business workshops, the project has trained over 1,500 women in farming, basket weaving, tailoring and similar skills.

Tailored to women business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs, the training Shakila participated in covers topics such as organization, production, contract management, book keeping and the purchasing of raw materials.

"Before, we bought everything at the same shop. We did not compare quotations to get good quality materials at the best price. We did not know how and where to sell our products and how to manage quality," Shakila says.

In addition to learning basic business know-how, participants also discussed gender issues and common perceptions around male and female roles.

"We thought that women should only work from their homes and that buying raw materials could only be done by the men," Shakila reveals, adding that: "After the training, we understood that we can do the same – we learned how to go out and purchase the materials ourselves. I realized that we have the ability to do what men do."

Since completing the workshop, Shakila proudly reports a 70% increase in profit. Her staff has grown from 5 to 60, of which 20 are skilled female workers.

"These are big changes […] we are happy because [the training] has been very helpful to us," Shakila says, speaking on behalf of the women who participated in the workshop, adding that: "We need advanced training in the future."

Photo: UNOPS/Jackquelyn Topacio