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.
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.
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.
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.
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.