Afghan women unleashing their business potential

How entrepreneurship enabled an Afghan woman to create a successful company and help other women do the same – Published on International Labour Organization ILO, March 1, 2013.

MAZAR-E-SHARIF, Afghanistan (ILO News) – Afghans have been immersed in a conflict that has affected every aspect of their ordinary lives. For Khalida Yaqobi, the conflict has been an obstacle, not an obstruction. After graduating in engineering from Balkh University, she secretly studied English at a time when women seeking an education risked being executed by the Taliban. “I was studying English in a private house, without textbooks or notebooks, going in a burqa to a hidden English language course,” she says.   

At first, she couldn’t get a job but things started to look up for the 35-year-old mother of two after the fall of the Taliban regime.

In 2003, she was invited to follow an entrepreneurship and handicraft course for Afghan women, held at the ILO’s International Training Centre (ITC-ILO) in Turin, Italy, with funding assistance from the Italian government … //

… A huge untapped potential:

Upon her return to the country, she founded Balkh Business Development Services, which focuses mainly on business planning, budgeting, English for business and information technology. She leads a team of 26 employees, and says her company is capable of managing projects worth millions of dollars.

Some 500 women have been trained by her organization, 200 of whom have started their own businesses.

“By becoming entrepreneurs we are not only creating jobs for other women but moving from traditional customs to the 21st century,” she says.

According to Hervé Berger, the ILO representative for Afghanistan, Yaqobi’s example shows “what a little quality training, combined with determination, can do to improve lives.”

“Afghan women represent half of the untapped potential of Afghanistan. If even a fraction of that potential was unleashed, imagine how that would improve Afghanistan’s competitiveness vis-a-vis its competitors! The future of Afghanistan will be much brighter if Afghan women are given the opportunity to enter the labour market as skilled workers.”

Yaqobi herself believes thousands of Afghan women could benefit from business training, and she hopes the ILO will be able to help more young women in the country.

Entrepreneurship training “will enable them to become more confident in making a decent life for themselves and their children, as I did for myself and so many others,” she says.
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