The majority of employment in Afghanistan takes place in the informal sector where, although there are sub sectors where women’s involvement in production and to some extent, sale of products is traditional, there are also significant barriers to women’s engagement in the economy.
Providing women with business and skills training and on-going advice and support through community business centres enables them to become successful micro entrepreneurs but does not necessarily allow them to move beyond the limits of these traditional female sectors. In order to move women beyond traditional sectors, Zardozi is developing skills in creating new market opportunities through market systems change. At the moment these new opportunities are still related to the traditional women’s sectors of tailoring, embroidery, livestock rearing and food processing but at least they are moving women beyond low level production roles and into higher level order management and marketing.
The Herat school uniform market is an example of a successful Zardozi market development initiative. School uniforms are an expanding market because of the booming private school sector where each school has its own uniform. In Herat these uniforms were generally designed and produced in Iran where fabrics are good quality and cheaper than Afghanistan, tailoring skills are good and wage rates low.
Zardozi decided to carve out a role for women’s tailoring businesses in the school uniform market using price and the flexibility of having production close to hand as the main selling points. Zardozi motivated heads of private schools to place orders with Zardozi as the representative of the female tailoring micro entrepreneurs. By the end of the season, around 10 of the 60 women involved had managed to build their own relationships with schools such that they now have independent orders for the future. The leading business women amongst them are already considering expanding their businesses to include more formal tailoring workshops and agreements with traders importing fabric from Pakistan. Other tailors in Herat, both male and female, are also now taking advantage of this new opportunity in the school uniform market.