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Najla Sabri: “Female Entrepreneurship in the Formal Economy of Afghanistan”

Spring 2014 Slape Award Winner Najla Sabri
“Female Entrepreneurship in Afghanistan: The Case of Female Entrepreneurs in Kabul, From Invisibility to Visibility”

This summer was highly rewarding for me personally and academically. I spent two and a half months in Kabul, my hometown and the capital city of Afghanistan, where I conducted field research focusing on female entrepreneurship. It was a great experience to be in my own city making the familiar unfamiliar; looking at things through the lens of a researcher and learning about gender-related social and cultural practices which I never thought of or had taken for granted. Academically, this research project gave me, as a novice researcher, the opportunity to practice gained knowledge about research techniques, and develop skills in conducting field research, particularly interviews.

Map of Afghanistan demarcated with geo-location specific pictures showing cultural, historical, and social aspects of the country. Source: my own photograph. Hand made wooden map hanging on one of the walls of the Afghanistan Investment Support Agency (AISA)

Kabul-City-Downtown-168x300

Kabul city downtown, waiting for a shared taxi

Photo taken from shared taxi. Women usually sit in the front seat

Photo taken from shared taxi. Women usually sit in the front seat

In a meeting with in a non-government agency

In a meeting with in a non-government agency

 

In the house of one of the female entrepreneurs who uses her guest room as a showroom displaying all her company’s products from woodwork to needlework

In the house of one of the female entrepreneurs who uses her guest room as a showroom displaying all her company’s products from woodwork to needlework

My topic was interesting and very timely considering the new developments in Afghanistan, in which changes in the role of women (especially entrepreneurs) in social and economic life cannot be ignored. I conducted 18 in-depth interviews with successful and highly motivated Afghan female entrepreneurs, some of whom have targeted non-traditional and highly male dominated business areas such as information technology, carpentry, printing houses, etc. Moreover, I met with people at a number of government and nongovernment agencies to understand their policies and programs towards female entrepreneurship.

Interviewing the owner of a carpentry factory

Interviewing the owner of a carpentry factory

Female customers in a women’s accessories shop owned and run by a woman shopkeeper

Female customers in a women’s accessories shop owned and run by a woman shopkeeper

As my academic area of concentration is Gender and Development, by conducting this research I aimed to understand the correlation between entrepreneurship and women’s empowerment in conservative societies like Afghanistan where women’s participation in the public sphere is culturally discouraged. I was also interested to learn how entrepreneurship shapes women’s lived experiences in terms of family and social status, income generation, and participation in the public sphere and how it contributes to social and economic development. As women entrepreneurs and women’s presence in the formal economy are a new phenomenon, I was specifically interested to learn about the strategies they used to overcome social and cultural barriers.

Having lunch with the owner and workers of a tailoring shop

Having lunch with the owner and workers of a tailoring shop

In a women’s garments shop with the owner

In a women’s garments shop with the owner

This field research would not have been possible without the generous financial support of the George & Conni Slape Fellowship and the Thurber award I received in Spring 2014, and the invaluable guidance of my academic advisor Professor Anita Weiss, and my committee members Professor Yvonne Braun and Professor Angela Joya.

I am also grateful to all those colleagues and staff members of the International Studies Department who helped me with the administrative procedures.

 

 

owner of ball making factory speaking with Najla

Owner of a ball making factory, proudly showing her picture with former Afghan President Hamid Karzai and former United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

Currently I am in the process of writing my thesis and hope to complete it by Spring 2015. I intend to return to my country with enhanced knowledge and improved skills to serve my people and contribute to the ongoing development processes.