They run fleets of trucks, supply construction material, design software programs and make furniture. Women entrepreneurs in war-torn Afghanistan have been breaking many cultural ceilings in the past decade.
But now, many of them are anxious to find new clients as they prepare for the 2014 drawdown when they may lose their biggest client – the U.S. military bases. And India’s vast and lucrative market is their next frontier.
“It will be a big challenge once the Americans and the others leave. The local market in Afghanistan has not progressed much,” said Masuma Rezaie, 24-year-old founder of the evocatively named company First Afghan Lady Logistics and Services. “But there is big money in the Indian market.”
To this end, Rezaie and other businesswomen came to New Delhi on Wednesday to seek deals, training and technology from Indian companies. The three-day business-to-business meetings, facilitated by USAID and the Consortium of Women Entrepreneurs of India, comes at a time when the impending withdrawal of the international forces from Afghanistan is also raising concerns about the future of women’s rights to study and work.
Rezaie’s company supplies security equipment, furniture, potable water, generators, construction machinery and laborers to the international military camps and humanitarian groups across Afghanistan.
The war and rebuilding of the nation has birthed many Rosie-the-Riveters in Kabul, who are going beyond handicrafts and textiles. One company is called “Courageous Afghan Women Construction Company & Logistical Services.”
“The Taliban attacked my trucks twice,” Rezaie said. “But not because I am a woman, but because I am doing business with Americans.” She runs an all-women office in Kabul. “We keep the women in the offices to do the brain work, and send the men into the field.”
The organizers hoped business deals will be struck over the next three days.
Another entrepreneur, Malika Qanih, wants to learn the process of manufacturing herbal medicines from Indians.
“Afghanistan is rich in undiscovered, untapped herbs. Big business potential,” said Malika Qanih, 60, chief executive of Sun Pharma. On Friday, she will visit a factory owned by Shahnaz Husain, czarina of Indian herbal cosmetics.
Qanih hopes that Afghan women will not have to go back to the past after 2014. “Many countries have signed strategic partnerships with Afghanistan. I hope they will not forget to protect us even after 2014,” she said.
More world news coverage: