Art and business mingle at International Women’s Day events across Afghanistan

To mark International Women’s Day (8 March), celebrated across the world under the theme Invest in women: Accelerate progress, UN Women and partners organized a series of events in various cities across Afghanistan and Turkmenistan.

In Balkh Province, a mini bazaar on 10 March served as a venue to formally award assets and raw materials to 30 women entrepreneurs who previously took part in business skills training offered by the International Labour Organization (ILO) under the “Roads to Decent Jobs” project sponsored by UN Women to boost women’s economic empowerment and resilience.

In addition, an ‘Art Hour’ event inspired women to express their thoughts about women’s issues in Afghanistan and experiences through art under the guidance of female artisans.

Photo: UN Women/Sheeda Sufizada

One of the dozens of women participating in ‘Art Hour’ in Mazar on 10 March. Photo: UN Women/Sheeda Sufizada

UN Women collaborated with the Afghanistan Women’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry (AWCCI) to bring 14 businesswomen to the Afghanistan-Turkmenistan Business Forum and Exhibition in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan. Esteemed guests, including the Turkmen National Leader, convened for a business meeting to foster inter-State cooperation. AWCCI also signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs of Turkmenistan and organized a business visit for Afghan women entrepreneurs to learn from their Turkmen counterparts.

“I’ve always aspired to export my products, but I lacked insight into the demands and preferences of foreign markets,” says Zina*, a carpet producer from Kandahar. “This exhibition has granted me the opportunity not only to sell my products but also to gain a better understanding of the tastes of foreigners.”

In Bamyan Province, women market vendors baked a cake and wrote their aspirations on sticky notes. These messages included: “Women are the power of the whole world; may they keep smiling”; “Never give up”; and “I hope all Afghan women can return to schools and workplaces, making Afghanistan the best country in the region.”

Photo: UN Women/Yasmin Jaswal

Women in Bamyan Province baked a cake and shared their aspirations to mark International Women’s Day. Photo: UN Women/Yasmin Jaswal

In Herat, the UN Women Sub-Office for the Western Region organized a dynamic two-day workshop designed to empower participants with insights into UN recruitment procedures. The workshop provided invaluable hands-on experience through practical guidance and application exercises. Furthermore, attendees had the opportunity to engage in a vibrant ‘women in business’ networking event, hosted in collaboration with the owner of a well-known local women-owned, women-only restaurant.

The agenda also included enriching mental health and mindfulness sessions, fostering personal well-being and resilience. Additionally, participants could explore their creative side through captivating painting and photography classes, promoting self-expression and artistic exploration. Over these two days, 90 participants moved freely between these activities in a safe and friendly space.

As one participant wrote: “Thank you so much for bringing us together. It was such a great experience. Every part was great and useful. We felt so happy – at least for a few hours.”

Photo: UN Women/Claire Van Loveren

Painting classes were an exciting experience for many participants in the Herat workshop. Photo: UN Women/Claire Van Loveren

In Kandahar, on 7 March, an event at the private Momand Hospital celebrated its employment of more than 100 female hospital staff, with several in attendance, and acknowledged the contribution of the private sector to strengthening the resilience of Afghan women. Participants discussed the possibility of establishing a Learning Corner where women could receive training to advance their career development.

In Kabul, UN Women facilitated the participation of 40 diverse women-owned businesses from various regions of Afghanistan in an international exhibition held at the Intercontinental Hotel from 7–10 March. This event served as a platform for Afghan women and men entrepreneurs, and international exhibitors from neighbouring countries to showcase their exceptional hand-crafted products, each reflecting their talent, dedication and entrepreneurial drive. Both men and women visited this exhibition, showing their support for the talented Afghan women and men exhibitors.

A woman business-owner displays her wares at the national exhibition in Kabul. Photo: UN Women/Ali Omid Qasimi Taqdisyan

Participant Farida*, who runs a dairy business in Bamyan Province, says her family initially opposed her working, but she is now able to cover 80 per cent of the family expenses. She says: “I create stairs from the stones that are thrown my way. I will have my own brand in the coming five years.”

Another participant in the Kabul exhibition, Sari*, makes various home-made products such as jams and pickles. Her husband is unemployed and although she used to work as a midwife, she says her salary was not meeting her family’s needs, so she decided to open her own business instead. Despite facing several challenges, such as lack of electricity or a refrigerator and other standard machines, she says she is satisfied with her business and her participation in the exhibition, adding: “We women should come together, cooperate with each other and be role models for the next generation.”

A woman business-owner displays her clothing at the national exhibition in Kabul. Men and women visited and shopped from this exhibition. Photo: UN Women/Ali Omid Qasimi Taqdisyan

In addition, the UN Women Jalalabad Sub-Office organized two impactful events to bolster women’s empowerment in the region. On 25 February, a workshop and inaugural focus group discussion convened 34 talented women artisans specializing in handicrafts from the eastern region. This gathering provided a platform for these women artisans to share their experiences.

“Through the diverse insights shared at the focus group discussion, we’ve gained valuable perspectives on our business unit’s strengths, weaknesses and avenues for improvement,” said Nasima*, the CEO of a handicraft company. “The commitment to cooperation from various agencies, coupled with our determination to amplify our voice in the eastern region, positions us well to address future challenges.”

Later, on 29 February, a collaborative effort with UNICEF culminated in a joint exhibition and bazaar, shining a spotlight on exceptional creations crafted by Afghan women. This event served as a celebration of women’s skills, while also promoting economic opportunities and fostering community support. One participating woman business-owner shared: “My initial encounter with international clients presented a challenge in formulating an effective pricing strategy. However, through participation in the IWD event, I gained invaluable insights into pricing methods tailored to successfully market our products to a global audience.”

* Names changed to protect the women’s identity.

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