Afghan Women Help Drive Resurgent Economy

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KABUL — U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, on a visit to Afghanistan, has met with women entrepreneurs making new investments in agriculture, technology, the arts, and athletics.

Since the end of Taliban rule here, Afghan women have emerged as a driving force in a new economy with more than 1,600 registered female-owned business in a country where the Gross Domestic Product has nearly quintupled in the last decade.

"Women have entered the work area, the workspace," said Nilofar Sakhi, who directs the International Center for Women's Economic Development at the American University of Afghanistan. "They are the workspace. They are the government. They are at the parliament. And it's not easy to make them down suddenly because they have their voices, they have their contacts internationally, they have their resources. They are well equipped with information and advocacy tools."

Secretary Kerry met with some of those entrepreneurs during his visit to Kabul.

"We are always thinking how we can take advantage of Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube by collecting good content and creating web traffic," said Roya Mahboob, 25, CEO of the software development firm Afghan Citadel.

Her firm designed Dari-translation software and has more than three million viewers on a platform of web channels with more than 60,000 followers across its Facebook pages.

But she is most proud of supplying technology training to students in 40 schools with the help of Italian-born New York businessman Francesco Rulli. Mahboob says it is a chance for girls to broaden horizons.

"It's difficult, especially for females in the schools to go outside and learn IT in courses because most of the families do not pay for them to learn in the course," she said. "Providing the free education and free IT centers in each school, when they graduate from high school if they want to work they can stay at home working online."

Online, Mahboob says women have a freedom that is still hard to find in some parts of Afghanistan.

"The IT and social media give this power to women to be independent and have confidence to share their ideas because in social networks no one tells them 'Why are you outside the home?' 'Why are you talking with the men?' because no one knows them," she said.

Sharing ideas online encourages women to learn even more.

"And they increase their knowledge and have confidence that they can share as a human, they can be as a woman share and have the same skills as the men," said Mahboob.

Half of this year's freshman class at Kabul's American University of Afghanistan are women. Sakhi says Afghan girls today have role models unseen by previous generations.

"Looking at women talking about their political rights in parliament, looking at women entering into business and having trade in Malaysia and Dubai, and looking at women who are successful personalities internationally of raising Afghanistan voices. This gives an image," said Sakhi.

As a mother of two girls, Sakhi says her daughters look at her as an active mom and know they can do whatever boys do.