Afghan women turn to entrepreneurship but struggle to access capital

Female-ruled businesses currently represent an economic lifeline for Afghan women living under Taliban’s rules and regulations, but encounter a series of obstacles accessing capital and markets, a United Nations Development Programme study released on Wednesday revealed.

The UNDP discovered that 41% of 3,100 Afghan female entrepreneurs surveyed had to take on debt but just 5% of them had been able to gain credit through a bank or micro-finance institution, instead mostly relying on lending from friends or family members.

Respondents also reported hindrances hampered their operations, with over 70% saying they were not able to travel to a local market without a male guardian.

The Taliban have not formally restricted women from work but have barred many Afghan female aidworkers, shuttered beauty salons, which employed tens of thousands of women, and limited women’s movement and work in many institutions without a male guardian.

That has led to female formal employment – already low even before the Taliban took over in 2021 – to plummet, according to international development and labour organisations.

However female entrepreneurship has went on and some Taliban officials, involving the commerce minister, have said their administration wants to support female businesses, several of which employ women in carpet weaving, handicrafts, dried fruit and saffron production.