KABUL, Afghanistan (Jan. 6, 2013) – Embracing their newfound independence and inserting themselves in an increasingly more secure and modern Afghanistan, some local women have organized to hold a new type of traditional bazaar.
Each month, weather and security permitting, International Security Assistance Force invites more than 30 female vendors to sell their mostly handmade wares at its headquarters in Kabul. The monthly bazaar nets the women more than just much needed additional income and the ability to help support their families.
An Air Force servicemember negotiates lightheartedly with an Afghan girl over the price for her handmade bracelets at a women’s bazaar at International Security Assistance Force headquarters, Kabul, Jan 5. The monthly bazaar is designed to empower the underprivileged female entrepreneurs. (U.S. Army photo by SSG Christopher Harper)
“The money I earn here supports me attending university,” said Jamila, a vendor who sells original artwork at the bazaar. Jamila studies public health, “my dream is to become a doctor.”
The women have been holding the monthly bazaar at ISAF headquarters for nearly two years.
Jamila has been participating in the bazaar for eight months.
“Many of the women can earn in a day what would normally take weeks,” Jamila said. “This is a great opportunity for us.”
Vendors can make hundreds at a single bazaar, and depending on the number of bazaars worked, could average up to $1000 per month. The earnings help these women start up their own businesses, pay for medical care and drug rehab services for family members, and fund education for their children. Bazaar organizers also assist women opening their own bank accounts and taskera identity cards, and discounts on medical services.
Storai Jalal, an ISAF Afghan-American civilian contractor, is the bazaar organizer who pioneered a business model to empower the underprivileged women of Afghanistan. The model focuses around the core concept of building self-sufficiency through sustainable livelihoods to Afghan women.
"Ninety-five percent of these women were illiterate, yet in a very short time they have learned how to convert Afghanis to dollars to Euros," Jalal says. "They have learned business development, marketing, advertising, and limited English. These women are highly talented. They have just never been given the opportunity nor have they had the courage to stand up on their own feet."
The project launched in June 2010 with 97 participants and has expanded to regular bazaars at multiple coalition bases including HQ ISAF, KAIA, New Kabul Compound, Camp Eggers, and Bagram. Today the program supports almost 800 Afghan women directly and more than 5,000 indirectly through women who produce goods for sale.
Coalition servicemembers and civilians working at ISAF headquarters appreciate the chance to interact with the women and find treasures at the bazaar.
In addition to shopping for traditional Afghan souvenirs and unique handmade crafts for their loved ones back home, many of the coalition servicemembers volunteer to assist the women to ensure they can setup and breakdown the bazaar each month.
Air Force TSgt. Shawna Williams, an administration noncommissioned officer at ISAF headquarters, enjoys shopping at the women’s bazaar, “because the women are not as aggressive,” as their male counterparts. Williams, like many other coalition servicemembers, appreciates the lighter atmosphere often filled with playing children.
Even the ISAF commander, Gen. John Allen, along with other senior coalition headquarters staff, has been seen taking time from their busy schedules to shop and interact with the women.
This month, Pulitzer Prize winning Afghan photographer Massoud Hossaini visited the bazaar. “What are really great are these women’s stories,” said Hossaini.