Afghan women: A dynamic economic force
By Evelyn Rupert
March 9, 2020
Afghanistan’s economic, social and political future hinges on protecting and expanding upon the hard-won gains that women have secured during the past 18 years, said a panel of barrier-breaking Afghan women and representatives from the U.S. State Department and USAID.
An event titled “Afghan Women: A Dynamic Economic Force” on March 5 at the Embassy of Afghanistan in Washington, D.C., examined the crucial role of women in transforming the country’s economy, particularly considering planned peace talks between the government and the Taliban. The event was organized and sponsored by Creative Associates International, the Embassy and the Asian Development Bank.
“What we have seen time and again is that women must be part of the solutions we seek. There is no other way forward,” Ambassador H.E. Roya Rahmani, Afghanistan’s first female ambassador to the United States, said in her opening address.
The event was part of an ongoing series of women-focused events organized by Creative in the United States and Afghanistan. Participants celebrated the remarkable advancements that Afghan women have made in the government and private sector ahead of International Women’s Day on March 8.
Proof of this progress was on stage. Joining the discussion were: Nargis Nehan, Afghanistan’s first female Minister of Mines and Petroleum; businesswoman Tania Arya, who founded Veezha, a brand that exports handmade Afghan jewelry; and Zarifa Ghafari, who became the mayor of the conservative town of Maidan Shar and was awarded a 2020 International Women of Courage Award on March 4 by First Lady Melania Trump.
“Over the past 19 years, Afghan women have fearlessly joined the fight to rebuild our economy and defend our democracy,” Rahmani said. “In all walks of life, we have been showing our potential and talents.”
Creative Founder and Board Chair Charito Kruvant, who moderated the discussion, added: “Women are showing us right now in Afghanistan that against all odds they can succeed.”
Investing in women for Afghanistan’s future
Despite the advances of Afghan women, there is still a long way to go before they achieve equal opportunity.
Mayor Ghafari said that efforts to increase opportunities for women need to include long-term impact and reach women in conservative areas like her town of Maidan Shar, where Ghafari began her term in March 2019 at just 26 years old. Ghafari knows first-hand how dangerous the backlash can be against women who step into male-dominated sectors; she told The New York Times last year that she fully expects to be assassinated.
Arya echoed those comments and said Afghan women should strive to “be a voice for women who need us most. To be a voice for Afghan women who are suffering still from not having equal rights, suffering from violence, not having access to equal opportunities in education, in healthcare and so many other basic rights.”
The participants stressed that the future of Afghanistan’s women will determine the future of the country.
“We know that women are essential to Afghanistan’s future,” said Erin Mone-Marquez, Acting Director of the USAID/Aghanistan Program Office. “We know that one of the most effective investments for accelerating economic growth and achieving sustainable peace in Afghanistan is supporting women’s robust participation in the economy.”
Former Minister Nehan outlined a few of her own recommendations for how to better support women’s economic participation. They included training and capacity building for women entrepreneurs, policies to increase the number of opportunities for women in government contracting, better data on contracts awarded to women-owned businesses and aid that sets requirements for women’s participation and representation.
Kelley E. Currie, Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues at the State Department, remarked that women are “incredible agents of change and can be powerful forces in the economy, from the corner store to the corner office.”
“All of us, whether we work in government, civil society, the private sector or the education sector must work together to build on the successes that have been made and continue our support for Afghan women,” she said. “The future stability and progress of Afghanistan depends on it. It depends on whether women are able to live up to their full potential in every sector of Afghan society.”
Women moving forward on the “bumpy road” toward peace
In his closing remarks, Creative President and CEO Leland Kruvant acknowledged that we are in a unique moment in history, when the momentum of women’s progress in Afghanistan and the potential for peace converge.
“Women are more empowered than they’ve ever been, more outspoken than they’ve ever been, more sure of themselves and more ready to move forward than they’ve ever been,” he said. “There’s something special about this moment. Let’s do something with it.”
And with the possibility of talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban on the horizon, freedoms and opportunity for women hang in the balance. The Afghan women on the panel had a clear message: They’re not losing the ground they’ve gained.
“Afghan women are not going back. We are going to go forward,” Nehan said.
She added: “For the sustainability of peace, the empowerment of women and the continued support of Afghan women are very important.”