Women, business and tech: A combination for success in Afghanistan

Ann Nallo
Ann Nallo
Mar 5, 2019 · Unlisted

Women in Afghanistan are a force for change. The World Food Programme (WFP) is working closely with women across the country to help them reach their potential by teaching them business skills and employing technology to ensure assistance in emergencies.

At the graduation of her vocational training, Rahila poses with her new sewing machine. She looks forward to making handbags at home to sell at the market and support her family. Photo: WFP/Wahidullah Amani

Learning skills through Vocational Training

In January, dozens of women gathered in Kabul City for a graduation ceremony and received their certificates one by one with huge smiles on their faces. This special day marked the end of a six-month vocational training organized by WFP and NGO partner Female Rehabilitation & Development Organization (FDRO) to provide women with new skills.

A total of 1,000 women left the courses with new abilities in sewing bags and weaving carpets, many of them expressing an interest in starting their own small businesses. Throughout the training period, the women and their families were supported by WFP with monthly food vouchers to cover their food needs. This allowed the women to go to the daily courses and acquire new skills that will help them provide money for the family.

Rahila, 31, is one of the graduates. Originally from Wardak province, she is married and has two children.

A woman in Mazar practices new embroidery skills during a vocational training session. Photo: WFP/Wahidullah Amani

WFP organizes similar vocational trainings across country. In Herat, in the western part of Afghanistan, WFP has partnered with the local NGO “Women’s Education for Better Tomorrow,” which offers courses that range from knitting to basic mechanics to cell phone repairs, while WFP provides food assistance. Some of the women here have been displaced by conflict and have lived in informal settlements for years, while others are more recently displaced due to the drought that has crippled the north and west of Afghanistan for more than a year.

Nineteen-year-old Howara dreams of helping her siblings through school. “I was not able to go to school, but I hope — with the training — to help my brothers and sisters to finish school and live in peace in the country.”

In urban areas, such as Mazar-e-Sharif in the north of the country, vocational training includes making handbags, while women in rural areas learn skills such as spinning thread from sheep’s wool to make carpets. In certain areas, these activities are complemented by training on how to grow vegetables from irrigated kitchen gardens. Such gardens can help families diversify their diets and women can also sell any surplus on the market, contributing to the family income and raising their influence within the community.

Women and their children returning from Pakistan prepare for SCOPE registration at the border crossing in Torkham. Photo: WFP/Wahidullah Amani

Technology empowers female heads of households

Technology is another way that WFP is working to ensure Afghan women can take charge of their futures. WFP’s SCOPE cards with cash assistance provide female headed households with the opportunity to go to select markets and shops and buy food for their families. SCOPE technology is a beneficiary registration and management tool, which enables WFP to reach those in need quickly. WFP employs female staff during the registrations to make sure women beneficiaries are reached, which ensures the assistance is provided equally to male and female-headed households in need and no families get missed.

Shereen Gul, 62, is a widow who left her village in Logar province 12 years ago after her young daughter was killed. Now living in Kabul, she receives cash assistance from WFP and buys wheat flour, wood and vegetable oil to provide for her family as part of seasonal support for most vulnerable families. WFP also focuses on pregnant women and new mothers, providing specialized nutritious foods to prevent the lifelong consequences of poor nutrition in their children.

WFP internship programme gives female graduates a great start

While WFP works to empower women in their communities across the country, the organization also has taken steps to do the same internally. In WFP’s Country Office in Kabul, the country director and senior management have pushed to engage more women in the workforce. In 2016, WFP and UN Women launched an internship programme for female graduates from Kabul University to give them hands-on experience in a range of roles, from business support to donor relations to Information Technology. WFP’s Human Resources department works closely with these women to teach them how to write CVs and cover letters and how to apply for jobs.

Hakima, a former intern now working in the Information Technology department says through the programme, “I have not only recognized my abilities, but now also know how to go forward and what to do in the future. This programme is great. I am working in my own field and I feel great changes.”

Over the past three years, dozens of women have participated in the programme and many have been offered full-time roles in the office. As part of WFP’s country plan to contribute to gender equality and longer-term peace, WFP hopes to expand the programme to rural areas so that even more women can learn important skills that will help them contribute to the country’s workforce and build their own livelihoods.

To learn more about WFP Afghanistan, visit our country page.

World Food Programme Insight

Insight by The World Food Programme