Unlocking the potential of an ambitious Afghan woman
By Natalie Lovenburg and Aziz Gulbahari
April 12, 2017
Like many educated Afghan female workers, 25-year-old Mawlodah Ilyasi lacked job stability and felt unprepared to take on the full financial responsibility of her family.
In many traditional societies in Afghanistan, the woman’s role is typically confined to that of a mother and housewife. With more equitable access to education and job training, aspiring women like Ilyasi are accessing open doors that lead to thriving careers–and a steady paycheck.
Addressing the country’s high unemployment by improving the quality and access to trainings in business and technical areas, the Afghanistan Workforce Development Program is giving more women and men the chance to be transformative change agents within their families and communities. The program is funded by U.S. Agency for International Development and implemented by Creative Associates International.
“The trainings the program provides helps job seekers grow and allows them to be more professional,” says Ilyasi. “I am so thankful for this opportunity.”
The Afghanistan Workforce Development Program has done exceptionally well in reaching female job seekers, explains Salem Helali, Senior Technical Advisor for Workforce Development and Youth Employment in Creative’s Economic Growth Division.
Helali says, “We had an original aim to match 25 percent women of the total number of trained career professionals with jobs and those seeking job opportunities but the program exceeded that target and reached more than 36 percent women.”
The program is boasting more positive results.
Of the mid-level career professionals who have been trained through the program, more than 21,000 Afghans in five cities have been empowered and placed in jobs or received a promotion in their current position.
Overcoming barriers to empower Afghan women
Originally from the Balkh province of northern Afghanistan, Ilyasi and her family moved to Kabul in early 1990s when she was 5 years old to seek a safer environment with more income-generating opportunities.
When the Taliban’s control increased and safety continued to be a concern and economic means uncertain, IIyasi and her family migrated to Peshawar, Pakistan, where she completed high school and studied business and English language courses. They returned to Kabul when the Taliban was ousted from power in 2001.
Four decades of conflict and crisis have had long lasting effects on Afghanistan’s economic opportunities, with unemployment currently hovering at 40 percent.
After four years of working in financial management for a local bank in the city, Ilyasi lost her job in 2015 as a result of Afghanistan’s stagnant economic growth. After submitting job application after application with no response back, Ilyasi says she felt discouraged.
Accessing education and employment opportunities for women in Afghanistan have been severely limited. Under the Taliban rule, women and girls were banned from going to school and working.
Today, with only 17 percent of Afghan women literate in the country, the gender gap in education and employment remains a significant hurdle.
“The biggest challenge for most women in Afghanistan is their conservative families and most of the families think that working females and the income they generate are shameful for them,” says Ilyasi. “Security and harassment of females when they are at university or their job is still the main cause of their concern.”
Adding to the problem, job seekers–both women and men–historically could only get jobs if they were equipped with very specific and relevant skills for the limited job openings. The job market is competitive and unattainable for job seekers with basic skills.
Transforming lives with job training
The Afghanistan Workforce Development Program is tapping into the country’s potential by providing mid-level workforce training tailored to the needs of the labor market.
After training, technical skills are then polished with job placement support, where job seekers learn how to prepare a professional resume, dress for and navigate through an interview and negotiate a salary.
Ilyasi’s first learned about the program’s demand-driven practical skills training program from a former classmate, who was working as an administrator with Lynx Eyed, one of the program’s 12 grant implementing partners.
She joined a project management training, where she learned specific financial skills on taxation, payment processing, financial reporting and voucher examinations.
After completing training, and then applying and receiving a full-time job open position as an Assistant Finance Officer with the program, Ilyasi reached a personal goal and says she continues to hone her skills.
“We use a modern and standard financial system and it’s a great chance for my specialization in this field,” she says. “Working in an international organization was a dream for me, and the program’s practical trainings and pre-employment skills, changed that perception to a reality.”
Women’s participation in the labor force has been rising steadily since 2001 in Afghanistan, reaching 19 percent in 2016.
Ilyasi’s direct supervisor Venugopal Thirumalpad, Director of Finance and Administration for the Afghanistan Workforce Development Program, proudly shares, “She has improved a lot in her position and she can even handle her job with minimum supervision.”
Ilyasi feels optimistic about the growing job market in her country.
If job seekers pay attention and search for opportunities for trainings in market-based skills, they will find suitable jobs, she adds.
Ilyasi’s salary goes a long way–supporting her whole family including her mother who receives regular medical treatments and her younger sister who is pursuing higher education. She is also covering tuition for her own university classes as she pursues a bachelor’s degree in business administration and aims to get a master’s degree in the future.
“To me, every day that passes and I am working with the Afghanistan Workforce Development Program is a step forward in my professional development,” says Ilyasi. “I hope and dream for Afghan women to become more professional and work toward a brighter future.”
Sayed Mohammad Naweed, Communications and Outreach Officer, contributed to this story.