“Why does one person have to bear all the financial burden and responsibility of 5 other people in family? I believe in coordination and teamwork when it comes to the economy of the family. I am as much accountable as much as my husband is.” insisted Sadat, a 25 year old mother from Herat who lives with her husband’s family. Sadat joined Zardozi in 2015 and today she is a shopkeeper selling handicrafts, cosmetics and clothing.
She started as a bead worker but since she didn’t have enough earnings, she left the job. She also left bead working in hope of achieving bigger goals and serving the community at a higher level. That is when she decided to open a shop, a scary and more difficult task to manage.
Sadat says that without Zardozi’s trainers help, introducing her to new business ideas, she wouldn’t have been able to figure out what and how she would start a business that has a higher profit margin. Although Sadat had liked the idea of opening a shop, she thought of many challenges that would come her way. Family restrictions, inadequate cash flow to rent a place and purchase items were some of her concerns.
In addition to that, the emergence of female shopkeepers is new in Afghanistan. There are many safety and risk factors that add to the challenge. In provinces like Herat, there are more security measures in place. Most men seem to be more open-minded in this province than in more conservative areas. They will allow their sisters and wives to work outside so that they have the freedom to stand on their feet and practice their rights. This situation applies to some people but for some, like Sadat, she had obstacles to overcome.
Safety was not the only issue bothering Sadat. Family strictness and the Mullahs were also against the opinion of women shopkeepers. Sadat’s father and brothers were not happy about her shop. As head of the District Council, Sadat’s father was afraid that people would criticize him for his daughter’s work. but since money was tight, they had to allow her work and open the shop inside the house. Sadat said, with a smile on her face, “It is funny how everyone that was against me turned out to be nice to me and respect me later. It is because their needs were completed through my shop and the men would send their women only to my shop, because they felt their women are safe interacting with female shopkeeper.”
In an Afghan society, men are more comfortable when their women interact with female doctors, co-workers and shopkeepers. However, most of these men also do not allow their women to be in these positions so that women can go to them. Brave women like Sadat have taken steps forward to fight circumstances, to resist and make sacrifices to become facilitators in society. She says that it is because of her shop that the women are able to come out and speak comfortably about their needs to a woman shopkeeper.
Sadat says, “There are so many difficulties for women to speak to male shopkeepers especially when buying inner garments. A woman who is not allowed to go much out of home and is not permitted to speak to Non-Mahram feel embarrassment and an unpleasant experience to buy the necessary things from male shopkeepers. I have also learned from my female customers that they were harassed many times, and that is why they express gratitude to my shop.”
Sadat has been able to manage her business successfully and visits Zardozi’s Manbeh when she seeks advice.