Wo­man Power

More women are com­ing into prac­ti­cal life in this ‘closed’ coun­try.

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By Muham­mad Omar Iftikhar The writer is a free­lance colum­nist.

The hu­man­i­tar­ian sit­u­a­tion in Afghanistan wors­ened dur­ing the pe­riod when the US and its coali­tion forces were ac­tively present there. Con­sid­ered a ‘worn-torn na­tion,’ Afghanistan is in dire need for a far-reach­ing change in mind­set and devel­op­ment of its var­i­ous so­cial sec­tors. More­over, with the thin­ning of in­ter­na­tional aid com­ing to Afghanistan, Kabul is des­per­ately in need for so­lu­tions to sus­tain its so­cioe­co­nomic bal­ance. Dur­ing these bleak times over­shad­ow­ing the coun­try’s so­cio-eco­nomic and

po­lit­i­cal fab­ric, so­cial en­trepreneur­ship is gain­ing mo­men­tum, es­pe­cially among the youth – and par­tic­u­larly women. How­ever, with for­eign aid and in­vest­ment be­com­ing a dis­tant dream for Afghanistan, so­cial en­trepreneurs from the coun­try are aim­ing to change their so­ci­ety. To ac­com­plish this task, they must un­der­stand the mar­ket­ing and fi­nan­cial dy­nam­ics of their coun­try, cre­ate a vi­sion and mis­sion for their busi­ness, and work on a strat­egy to build vi­able ideas to trans­form their so­ci­ety and even­tu­ally their coun­try. Per­haps build­ing and main­tain­ing re­la­tions with key gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials, busi­ness­men and in­flu­en­tial de­ci­sion-mak­ers from the bu­reau­cracy, these so­cial en­trepreneurs can move ahead in their dream of chang­ing Afghanistan. Start­ing a busi­ness will be a chal­lenge al­to­gether in a coun­try that has not seen so­cial devel­op­ment in a long time. How­ever, it is high time that Afghanistan’s youth brings con­struc­tive so­cial change.

Shethab Afghanistan Cen­ter for Busi­ness and So­cial In­no­va­tion fa­cil­i­tates in­no­va­tion and so­cial ven­tures driven by

young so­cial

en­trepreneurs. Their men­tors, ad­vi­sors and part­ners come from var­i­ous coun­tries, join­ing hands to bring so­cial change in Afghanistan. Ac­cord­ing to the Shetab Afghanistan's web­site: “We share a vi­sion about Cen­tral, West and East Asia that tran­scends bor­ders - and one that is founded on thou­sands of years of wealth, pros­per­ity and well-be­ing of its peo­ple. With our in­cred­i­ble and grow­ing community of like-minded in­di­vid­u­als and di­verse or­ga­ni­za­tions, we are cre­at­ing a vi­brant startup and so­cial in­no­va­tion community in Afghanistan that be­lieves in the power of col­lab­o­ra­tion and cocre­ation, shap­ing a more in­clu­sive fu­ture for its ci­ti­zens.” Lo­cated in Kabul, Shetab Afghanistan pro­vides work­force devel­op­ment, ca­pac­ity build­ing, men­tor­ing and co-work­ing so­lu­tions to young en­trepreneurs who ar­rive at Shetab with a vi­sion and a pas­sion to mov­ing for­ward. Shethab broke the stereo­type by re­cruit­ing the first fe­male par­tic­i­pant in its net­work. This was a ma­jor strike at the coun­try’s mind­set, in which the gov­ern­ment and ex­trem­ist fac­tions prevent women from pur­su­ing a ca­reer.

Where Afghanistan has been fac­ing gen­der in­equal­ity for long, it also lags be­hind in pro­vid­ing ed­u­ca­tion to its fe­male pop­u­la­tion. Ac­cord­ing to Steven Koltai, Se­nior Ad­vi­sor for En­trepreneur­ship to for­mer US Sec­re­tary of State Hil­lary Clin­ton, who also ran the Global En­trepreneur­ship pro­gramme (GEP), said, “En­trepreneur­ship also em­pow­ers, en­abling a poor wo­man in a poor coun­try to gen­er­ate in­come, se­cure a good home and send her chil­dren to school. This is also the prom­ise of mi­cro­fi­nance, but full­blown en­trepreneur­ship takes it to a mean­ing­ful, last­ing level.”

Dur­ing the TED Talk in 2005, the cur­rent Pres­i­dent of Afghanistan, Ashraf Ghani, the then Chan­cel­lor of the Kabul Univer­sity, spoke on 'How to Re­build a Broken State.' He called for a higher level of global en­gage­ment in the re­gion, es­pe­cially in Afghanistan. In re­sponse to the ques­tion, “How is Afghanistan go­ing to pro­vide al­ter­na­tive in­come to the many peo­ple who are mak­ing their liv­ing off the drugs trade?” Ghani said, “In­stead of send­ing a bil­lion dol­lars on drug erad­i­ca­tion and pay­ing it to a cou­ple of se­cu­rity com­pa­nies, they should give this hun­dred bil­lion dol­lars to 50 of the most crit­i­cally in­no­va­tive com­pa­nies in the world to ask them to cre­ate one mil­lion jobs. The key to drug erad­i­ca­tion is jobs. Look, there's a very lit­tle known fact: coun­tries that have a le­gal av­er­age in­come per capita of 1,000 dol­lars don't pro­duce drugs.”

Although the con­sti­tu­tion of Afghanistan pledges to pro­vide women the right to ed­u­ca­tion and em­ploy­ment, the po­lit­i­cal struc­ture of the coun­try, how­ever, has cre­ated a gap be­tween the rights that the women will re­ceive and the dark truth – that women are op­pressed and not al­lowed to live by their will. Even if women do take part in so­cial en­trepreneur­ship pro­jects and as­sist men in bring­ing Afghanistan out of its many predica­ments, it is im­per­a­tive for the Afghan gov­ern­ment to in­crease fe­male par­tic­i­pa­tion in the Afghan Par­lia­ment, in peace talks and in re­build­ing Afghanistan’s so­cial, eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal sys­tem.

In­ter­est­ingly, the en­roll­ment of women at the Kabul Univer­sity’s com­puter sci­ence depart­ment is 30% of the to­tal strength en­rolled. Be­fore 2002, there were no women study­ing in this depart­ment. This is a ma­jor step for­ward and the gov­ern­ment must pro­vide av­enues for women in Afghanistan to gain ed­u­ca­tion and be­come part of the sys­tem, by do­ing jobs or by be­com­ing so­cial en­trepreneurs. This will be the only way for­ward for Afghanistan.

Start­ing a busi­ness will be a chal­lenge al­to­gether in a coun­try that has not seen so­cial devel­op­ment in a long time.

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