The Unexpected Light

Empowering Afghan Women Entrepreneurs: The Story of Shazia and UNDP's ABADEI Project"

March 8, 2023

Shazia Showcases Her Products to a Local Customer

UNDP/ Swedish Committee for Afghanistan

Shazia (name changed), a 50-year-old woman living in the eastern region of Afghanistan, remembers hearing voices from outside her house.

"I heard the car pull up in front of the house, and then voices, and got up in a hurry. I assumed it was a person coming to ask for money that we owed. Instead, a woman was standing there and smiling at me."

The woman was from one of the NGOs working with UNDP's ABADEI project, the Swedish Committee for Afghanistan (SCA), and she came with an offer for Shazia that would change her life.

Shazia was a married woman with four sons and four daughters. She lives in a village with around 100 households. The local people work mainly in agriculture and livestock, but drought and flash floods contribute to poor crops and high poverty in the area. Additionally, women are prohibited from working outside the home due to Afghanistan's strict laws concerning women's movements. Women can travel to some locations accompanied by male relatives.

Her eldest son is Naqibullah; he is 25 years old. Her youngest child is Aisha; she is eight years old. However, Shazia's husband died when Aisha was just two years old.

After her husband died, Shazia needed a way to make money to support her family. So, she established a small shop in her house to provide products for local women who could not travel to the market because of cultural restrictions.

However, more bad luck was to come her way. Her deceased husband's family decided to repossess the property where Shazia and her family lived. Shazia was forced to leave. This was around the time of the fall of the government in Afghanistan. The Taliban had taken over, and the economy was collapsing. "The government had changed. I was running out of stock in my shop," says Shazia. With no work and now no home, Shazia was preparing to take the momentous step of illegally crossing the Pakistan border with her family of 12.

At this time, the lady from the UNDP's ABADEI project arrived. The lady talked to Shazia about her business and then explained that Shazia had been selected as a woman entrepreneur to receive cash to support her business. Based on her business plan, UNDP gave her 45,600 Afs (around US$500). Shazia was surprised and delighted by the news."Even in my dreams, I have never imagined someone would help me like this one day," she says gleefully.

With the money that UNDP gave her, Shazia reopened her shop, gave up her plans of leaving the country and tried to pull her life back together.

Shazia's shop stocks everything the local women need, and her customers also come from surrounding villages. If Shazia's shop were not in the village, women would have to pay 200 Afs for transportation and spend two and a half hours to reach the nearest bazaar. Shazia used to earn four to five thousand Afs per month, but now after receiving financial support from UNDP, she makes twenty thousand Afs ($220) monthly.

"If I get more capital, I will fill the shelves of my shop."

For the future, Shazia hopes to give her children the opportunity to study that she did not have herself. Shazia hopes to make more progress in her work so that her children will have more choices and become successful in their studies.

Afghanistan has been through a lot, but the country's recovery and development can't happen without the participation and empowerment of its women and girls. At UNDP Afghanistan, we recognize women's pivotal role in driving socio-economic progress and building resilience in the country.

Through the ABADEI program and generous financial support from The Government of Japan, the European Union, the Special Trust Fund for Afghanistan (STFA) and Our Partners at the core, we have supported 34,000 small businesses across eight regions in Afghanistan. Women lead eighty per cent of these businesses. The support helps them pursue their dreams and become vital to the socio-economic landscape. Our goal is to help women like Shazia achieve their aspirations despite their limitations.

Everyone benefits when women succeed, so we're committed to supporting their economic growth and success. By doing so, we can create a brighter future for all. We at UNDP are passionate about making this a reality in Afghanistan and beyond.