Women-Owned Businesses in Afghanistan Are in Jeopardy

Afghan women have carved out a tentative place in the country’s economy, but their progress remains vulnerable—especially in the wake of the Taliban takeover.

Over the last decade, female participation in Afghanistan’s labor force has climbed steadily, from around 15 percent in 2009 to nearly 22 percent in 2019. This increase corresponded with growing public support for women in the workplace. A poll conducted by the Asia Foundation in 2019 revealed that 76 percent of Afghans agreed that women should be allowed to work outside the home, almost a 10 percent jump from 2009.

Analysis conducted by the Afghanistan Women’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry (AWCCI) earlier this year revealed that of the 17,369 women-owned businesses they indexed, the majority are less than five years old. While women entrepreneurship in Afghanistan remains nascent, it has created more than 129,000 jobs, over three-quarters of which were held by women.

Most women-owned businesses (95.7 percent) surveyed by the AWCCI were unlicensed, which suggests that many women are operating on the fringes of the economy and do not perceive licensing to be worth the cost. More often than not, women have leaned on their personal savings to get their enterprises off the ground. Their businesses tend to be concentrated in the clothing and handicraft, food production, and education sectors.

The current unrest in Afghanistan threatens to undercut this economic progress. Soon after taking control of the country, the Taliban advised women to stay home from work until “the situation gets back to a normal order.” Recent footage circulating on social media depicts the Taliban brutally cracking down on women-led protests in Kabul. The new acting government does not include any women in its leadership and has eliminated the Ministry of Women’s Affairs.

Further repressive measures are likely on the horizon, putting Afghan women at risk of falling into the shadows.

Matthew P. Funaiole is a senior fellow for data analysis with the iDeas Lab and a senior fellow with the China Power Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C. Fina Short is an intern with the CSIS iDeas Lab.

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Matthew P. Funaiole
Vice President, iDeas Lab, Andreas C. Dracopoulos Chair in Innovation and Senior Fellow, China Power Project

Fina Short

Intern, iDeas Lab