‘Leaning In’ And ‘Pulling Up’: Women’s Economic Equality In The Middle East

“Women are not making it to the top of any profession anywhere in the world – the numbers tell the story quite clearly,” says Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg in her 2010 TEDx Talk. Sandberg’s advice to women in her New York Times bestseller, “Lean In,” is relevant across the globe: less than half of working-age women worldwide are employed, they are paid less on average than men for the same work, and the chances of rising to the top of a Fortune 500 company are not in a woman’s favor. This is a huge loss given that investing in women’s employment offers a multiplier effect for society: better health and education outcomes, societal resilience, reinvestment in communities, and national prosperity.

While Sandberg caveats much of the underlying premise that women need to “lean in” and lead in order to succeed, there is a tone of universality (at least for developed countries with highly educated populations)—you can advance and rise to the top if you give yourself enough permission, whether it’s becoming CEO or a successful tech entrepreneur. According to Sandberg, too few women are making it to the top, and she cites the socialization of gender roles (little boys are encouraged to be more aggressive) and the likability factor (women tend to be “liked less” the more successful they are) as some of the primary reasons.

This rings especially true in the Arab World’s Gulf States (known collectively as the Gulf Cooperation Council or GCC), where in many countries, women represent a more educated talent pool than the rest of the population, based on university graduation rates. While overall unemployment and underemployment in the region is high, GCC women are disproportionately affected when compared to their male counterparts. Women and men in the UK or Singapore, for example, deal with similar (if not identical) unemployment rates. But in Saudi Arabia or Qatar, women are more than three times as likely as men to be unemployed.

From a cultural standpoint, many GCC women struggle especially hard to push back against convention, or workplace expectations. “There is the expectation for the women to be the nurturers and still look after the kids, regardless of whether or not they are part of the workforce,” said Al Olaimy, social entrepreneur and co-founder of 3BL Associates in Bahrain.

But even those who are willing to lean in may be stymied by the need for institutional-level change that would allow women to participate in the workforce and ensure that they have equal access to get to the top of any sector. Leaning alone cannot overcome structural and cultural challenges, but it can be a way to close the gaps in women’s economic participation. The region, as a result, would have a great opportunity for increased economic growth, filling the needs of a growing labor force, which will increase by 70 percent over the next few decades, according to the World Bank’s most recent projections.

Who is the Arab Sheryl Sandberg?

Many women across the GCC are already making their voices heard, leaning in far enough to reach boardrooms, helping them break new ground in the workplace. But leaning in is not that simple as it may seem—oftentimes a hard fought internal battle.

“The biggest battle that I have fought as a woman in society is with myself—much more than with external factors,” said Al Olaimy.

For Al Olaimy, the power of self-permission became clear a few years ago when she was speaking on a panel for International Women’s Day hosted by a management consulting firm. An all-women’s group of panelists was asked, “Do you question whether or not you deserve to be in your position?” Then the discussion began–almost every woman revealed that she woke up asking herself if she deserved what she had accomplished professionally, barring one Saudi woman from Aramco. She said, “I wake up every morning thinking I deserve a raise and that I should be the CEO.” In a fight against a society that poses many logistical challenges to women’s labor advancement, including driving restrictions in Saudi Arabia or a lack of anti-discrimination laws,  confidence is a core piece of the foundation for change.

For Hazami Barmada, the founder of Al-Mubadarah: Arab Empowerment Initiative and the social media campaign #MyArabWorld, waiting for leaders or institutions to come to the rescue is a major challenge she identifies in the region.

“We talk a lot about hard and technical skills, and while they are important, we need to focus more on nurturing the entrepreneurs and giving them an environment to succeed,” said Barmada.

However, in many cases, the Gulf States actually create the type of supportive work environment that Barmada alludes to. “It can oftentimes be easier to be a woman in the workforce in the Middle East than in the Western world, as odd as it sounds,” said Moniza Khokhar, the founder of Elan Magazine. “The importance of family and work-life balance is a core part of the culture, so it becomes easier for both men and women to be better parents and spouses.”

Leaning in by pulling up

Women like Al Olaimy, Barmada, and Khokar are definitely leaning in—so why don’t we hear more about them?

“When people discuss these gender stereotypes of submissive Arab women, it just doesn’t add up in my experiences,” said Khokhar when asked about how women across the Arab World are portrayed in the news and media. “The GCC women who I have met in the for-profit sector have been investment bankers, CEOs, businesswomen—they are some of the fiercest women I have met to date, and I have lived in Manhattan for a majority of my life,.”

It’s true. There is currently a higher percentage of women entrepreneurs coming out of the Middle East, and “leaning in,” than there are from Sheryl Sandberg’s Silicon Valley. Despite living in a patriarchal society, Arab women from the Gulf States and beyond have persevered. That becomes clear with a quick glance at the list of “100 Most Powerful Women in the Arab World.”

It’s time to highlight more and more of these women, celebrating business women, CEOs, and senior-level government officials as female role models. To reflect the need for this changing paradigm, Barmada launched the MENA+ Social Good Summit in October of 2013 to host a broad range of online and offline conversations around entrepreneurship and innovation trends in the MENA region. “It was clear that people are hungry for constructive and positive news,” said Barmada. “They are tired of hearing about what they cannot do.”

Given the host of challenges that women in the region face, leaning in should become what Barbara McAllister, the director of global strategic initiatives at Intel Foundation, calls “pulling up.”

“Women need more than just individual leaning in—they need sponsors, mentors, and people at the top who are also willing to pull them up,” she said. “The truth is, it’s difficult to get there by yourself.”

The bottom line is that all women, in the GCC and beyond, need support, regardless of the context, the culture, and the economic status. Positive reinforcement and self-permission together are not a panacea to overcome institutional-level challenges, but offer a step towards opening up new possibilities and new systems—ones where women not only have the choice to participate in the economy and the job market, but have equal access to succeed in every sector.

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January 30, 2014 · 8:50 pm

Bringing beauty to a refugee camp

Video

A wedding salon in the Zaatari refugee camp brings a sense of normalcy to many Syrian women. CNN’s Atika Shubert reports.

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January 27, 2014 · 7:43 pm

An Iranian Girl, Battling to Be an Astronomer

Photo: Mohammad Reza and Jahan Panah/Courtesy Sundance Institute

PARK CITY, Utah – Sepideh – Reaching for the Stars is an earnest and inspiring documentary about a teenage Iranian girl who dreams of being an astronomer. It’s been getting a lot of attention since its recent debut at the ongoing Sundance Film Festival, but for anyone not fortunate enough – or cold-resilient enough – to be in Park City, there’s a speedy alternative: iTunes.

It’s the first time Apple has ever distributed a new film at Sundance to its millions of users in the U.S. and Canada while the movie was still playing at the festival. It’s unknown how long iTunes, which also offered some films during last year’s Tribeca Film Festival, will offer the doc, but it’s currently $7.99 to own and $4.99 to rent.

Is it worth the money? In short, yes. Sepideh Hooshyar was only 14 years old when director Berit Madsen found her at an astronomy festival in Iran, and subsequently documented the girl — and her quest to become an astronomer despite the opposition of her family — for nearly five years. Initially inspired by Iranian-American space tourist Anousheh Ansari, Hooshyar continually finds new ways to pursue astronomy studies even when her uncle berates her for her aspirations and her mother says their family can’t afford to send her to college.

“Very early on I got a clue that she was struggling for something and that there was definitely a long way ahead of her,” Madsen said. “And I [knew] I would really love to take a part of that.”

Madsen also wanted to tell an uplifting story. There are many documentaries that deal with the difficult issues women often face in the Middle East, she noted, but those aren’t the only stories. Through Hooshyar and Iran, where growing pockets of the country’s huge youth population want to step outside the country’s norms, the director saw an opportunity to document a different kind of struggle.

When she began filming, however, Madsen didn’t know whether or not the story would end up being uplifting or become yet another reflection of the limitations experienced by girls like Hooshyar. In addition to the lack of support from her family, young women are discouraged from going out at night in Iran — even if they just want to look at the stars. There was always a chance that Hooshyar would give up, or simply not get the opportunities she needed despite her efforts.

Today, Madsen says the strong-willed young woman she met six years ago is still as determined ever, and is currently studying physics at a small university. “I had no idea how Sepideh’s life would develop, but I had a hunch that … wouldn’t be the story about suppression and victims,” she said. “I think it’s also very interesting to hear about meeting young people who dare to dream – those stories exist too.”

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January 24, 2014 · 4:59 pm

3 Keys to a Sustainable World

3 Keys to a Sustainable World

Women’s empowerment is a HUGE part of development and growth.

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January 23, 2014 · 4:33 pm

Iranian women warned about wearing chador

chador

On Jan. 7, 1936, Iran’s then-ruler Reza Shah Pahlavi unveiled women by force as part of his clash with the clergy. On the anniversary of this significant event, influential conservative clergyman Ayatollah Safi Golpayegani issued a lengthy statement in the form of a news release titled “Warning Iranian Women,” in which he expressed disappointment in women who opt to dress more fashionably and revealingly. He referred to the “hip” version of Iranian women’s wear as “covering skin and concealing private parts as it should, but [falling] short of true coverage … and on the verge of being defined as haram.” He went on to recommend the chador as the best choice of coverage, repeating what many Iranian officials have said over the years. His mindset is concluded in the famous phrase describing the veil: “Chador, the superior hijab.”

I interviewed Mohammad Ali Abtahi, a reformist clergyman and former Iranian vice president who lives in Tehran, and asked his take on the chador, Ayatollah Safi’s comments and his religious interpretation. Abtahi told Al-Monitor, “From an Islamic standpoint, we as members of the clergy are to preach the right [path]. That’s all. We are not to pursue people’s behavior, nor should we attempt to correct it through publicly condemning it.” He told Al-Monitor, “Chador is an Iranian option of coverage, and choosing to wear it or opting out does not define people’s religious beliefs. It’s simply like any form of dress. But what makes this a sensitive issue is that since hijab is mandatory in Iran, less coverage is interpreted as resisting the regime. And that’s why all hell breaks loose when it comes to women’s hijab.”

Shahram Shabpareh, an Iranian pop singer, has an old song called “Dokhtar Chadori” (Veiled Girl), in which he attempts to convince his crush to ditch the chador. He likens the garment to a black cloud covering the pretty face he’d rather see in the clear.

Iranians created the chador, which is free-standing overall head-to-toe cover. It’s held in place by the hand or the more modern elastic band to make movement easier. Though there is much dispute over the roots of the word and the origin of its creation, the chador is mostly believed to have been created in the Safavid era, around the time that Shiism was declared the official religion of Iran.

In Farsi, the word chador means “tent,” and the name implies the head-to-toe coverage the garment provides, though some literature suggests otherwise. A woman who wears a chador is referred to as chadori. The “formal” chador is black and plain and offers near-total concealment. This type of chador is worn to the workplace, social gatherings and formal events. The “casual” chador is lighter, both in texture and in color, and it’s usually worn when women answer the door or step outside for just a minute. In some cities of Iran, the light form of chador — generally white, with a colorful flowered print — is worn as outerwear.

Outside of Iran, in Shiite-populated sections of Lebanon and Iraq, some women wear the black chador, apparently inspired by Iranians. This specific form of coverage is mostly exclusive to Iranian women, which is why some officials refer to it as the “national style.”

Some Iranian women and girls dislike and even despise wearing chadors, but are pressured to do so by their husbands, families or in-laws. For some, there are religious considerations and others are concerned with tradition or gossip.

The chador is not the only means of coverage for Iranian women, nor is it mandatory. In fact, chadori women can even make up the minority, particularly in bigger cities. The mandatory coverage — which many women discover ways to maneuver around — is a piece of clothing called a manteau, required to be worn as an over-garment. Hair is to be covered by scarves, and most chadori women wear scarves under the veil to conceal their hair.

Massoumeh, a 25-year-old college student living in Kerman, told Al-Monitor that she hates her black chador but is forced to wear it by her parents. She adds, “So I take it off, fold it and put it in my purse as soon as I’m a few blocks away from home, and I do the opposite when I get close to my house. I’ve a hunch that my folks know, but they haven’t mentioned anything, at least not yet. I have a couple of friends in the same situation. Their solution is the same as well.”

But for some Iranian women, just the thought of putting aside the chador is akin to stripping. One of those women is Fatemeh, who told Al-Monitor that she doesn’t feel safe or comfortable without her chador. She added that at times, it’s quite convenient. She said, “You could keep your house clothes on. It’s quick and easy; you just slip on your chador and you’re good to go.”

Chadori women support one another. On an Iranian website called “Chadoriha” (The Veiled), the group encourages peer support, pride in wearing the chador, chador-related news and voting for fellow chadori women running for public office.

Though the regime is all for the chador, most people are not. Embarrassment or mockery, or even getting bullied — particularly in bigger cities — are among the consequences of choosing the chador. Homa, a teacher in Tehran, told Al-Monitor that she understands older women’s choice to be veiled, but has absolutely no respect for younger chadoris. She says, “I usually drive carefully when it rains, so the muddy water wouldn’t splash on passersby. But if I see a younger chadori passing, I totally allow myself to be inconsiderate. Let me give you another example: I go to pilates class twice a week and never say hi to the three chadori women in my class.”

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January 22, 2014 · 8:54 pm

‘Women-only’ hangouts could break – or bolster – the Palestinian glass ceiling

Social venues catering to women offer a safe space for customers, but critics worry about the risk of voluntary segregation.

RAMALLAH – Twenty-year-old, hijab-wearing interior design students Yusin and Tamara have escaped the catcalls of downtown Ramallah to smoke water pipes at Ladies’ Café, a “women only” underground hangout discreetly located below a candy store.

Most cafés in this working-class area are unofficially reserved for men, where “if we were to sit and smoke shisha, a hundred eyes would immediately look at us thinking it’s a kind of taboo – it’s only for men,” explains Tamara as her friend nods in agreement. Though they tell me they come from relatively liberal families, they and many of the women I interviewed ask that only their first names be used.

Their waitress, Ruba, a 26-year-old recent college graduate from a village near Nablus, says the space was envisioned precisely for such young women fighting to break into an economy and a society still dominated by men.

“They can take off their hijabs, talk freely about their studies, their business plans, and socialize together after work,” says Ruba, adding that she herself comes here after her seven-hour shift at an accountant’s office. There, like most Palestinian workplaces, sexual harassment is neither discussed nor addressed. “Palestine is traditional, so women need more relaxation and to be more comfortable,” she says.

Though young women outperform their male peers in high school and make up half the student population atWest Bank universities, only 17 percent are working, according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics – a modest number when compared to the rest of the region.

And while tech startups and other high-skill industries have slowly been integrating female workers, women-only establishments like Ladies’ Café offer something completely different.

Ruba says working here for a symbolic seven shekels ($2) an hour has helped her overcome a gnawing feeling of frustration and guilt. And it has let her meet women who share her experiences.

Her story is a common one – she spent years and precious funds to pursue a degree in her passion, biology, only to find her economic prospects limited to dull office jobs, or marriage. A fresh divorcée of only 10 months, Ruba doesn’t fancy being bogged down in either one of those for any longer than necessary.

Hardly a business

While a loyal clientele has praised the café for meeting women’s very real need for a space of their own, critics fear it may threaten the modest progress women have made.

“Segregating women from men is not the solution because it does not allow Palestinians to rebuild and redefine a new culture and code, to deal with violations and collective experiences through interaction,” says Itiraf Remawi, acting director of the Bisan Center for Research and Development.

Also, the business model has been unsustainable. Three years in and with rock-bottom prices meant to attract a shaabi, or working-class, population with limited disposable income, Ladies Café functions more as a clubhouse than a business.

Its behind-the-scenes bouncer and owner, Jamil Ali, tells me from a cavernous back room of his ambition to liberalize the Palestinian public sphere. But he says that even in Ramallah, for all its openness to foreign cultures, social conservatism is an obstacle.

“The society here is very afraid,” he says. “They come here accusingly asking me of the propriety of a women’s cafe, saying, ‘Why do they need it?’”

According to Ali, “We also have questions from the more religious people, who don’t like the idea of women having a place to rest, to smoke water pipes, to chat by themselves.”

Women hit the airwaves

While politicians and economists agree that a well-educated, entrepreneurial-minded young population is among the Palestinians’ most valuable resources, unique obstacles associated with Israeli policy – barriers, checkpoints and permit requirements – and economic volatility have limited progress for women to the upper elite, for the most part.

As a response, 96 Nisaa FM, the first-ever women’s radio station in the Middle East, uses the airwaves to connect women on opposite sides of borders, and aims to inspire and inform the public debate on women’s issues across the socioeconomic spectrum.

Programs at Nisaa, which means women in Arabic, range from features on successful female micro-enterprises in both urban and rural areas to Oprah-style advice shows on how women can close the pay gap. Segments like “Qahwa Mazbut” in the morning and “Nisaa wa Iqtisad” (“Women and Economy”) have made it among the five most popular stations in the West Bank. These shows have motivated investors to try to replicate the model in Cairo and other Arab cities.

The journalists at Nisaa’s sleek Ramallah studio are mostly women, but out of a fear of becoming too parochial, they include men in interviews and see men as an essential part of the team, say staff members.

Shyrine Ziadeh, the 26-year-old owner of the Ramallah Ballet Center, agrees that catering only to women mistakes gender inequality as a women’s problem, rather than a Palestinian problem. She also wishes boys would join her ballet class.

It is critical for all young people to be exposed to “a world outside of the occupation,” she says, “because in Palestine we don’t have a lot of positive activities for kids where they can have a creative aspect on life and think about their future.”

Fifty students rake in only enough revenue to pay the rent. Still, watching her girls plié to classical music across her sunny top-floor studio and develop confidence and poise as young women is enough, she says. While she’d love to study abroad and develop her own talents in dance, she could never abandon her kids.

“I have a vision that I will have more girls,” says Ziadeh. “I didn’t know it, but I’m creating a new generation with them.”

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January 22, 2014 · 8:37 pm

Afghan Women Seek Internet’s Virtual Veil Amid Threats

Off a dusty, unpaved street near Kabul University, Roya Mahboob’s software company is designing a Web platform to let Afghan women create content from home even if Taliban militants return to power and curb their rights.

“I just make myself more invisible in the society” while “becoming more visible” on the Internet, Mahboob, 26, a computer science graduate of Herat University, said of her tactic for coping with opposition in a country that faces potential upheaval after international combat troops leave at the end of this year.

Retreating behind the electronic veil of the Internet isn’t an option for Zarghuna Sherzad, 46, a partner in Jahan Guldozi, an embroidery factory that employs 20 women about 3 miles (5 kilometers) from Mahboob’s office in Kabul.

“I grew up in the war, and I’ve spent a very difficult time in the past,” she said through an interpreter at her factory, recalling that when the Taliban ruled Afghanistan before the U.S. invasion in 2001, she endured beatings just for wearing sandals that showed her feet. “I’m always praying that regime should not be repeated.”

Women such as Mahboob and Sherzad are at risk of losing the freedoms they’ve won since the U.S. and its allies upended the Taliban, who cited their fundamentalist interpretation of the Koran to ban girls from attending schools and women from leaving their homes. Those gains already are under stress as international combat forces prepare to leave by the end of this year.

Insecurity’s Toll

“Insecurity might increase at the provincial level, and that could limit the freedom of women, particularly their movement in terms of their political participation in the provinces and in terms of their businesses,” said Nilofar Sakhi, executive director of the International Center for Afghan Women’s Economic Development at the American University of Afghanistan.

Afghan women have gained legal rights and protections in the last decade. Women are now 27 percent of the country’s parliament and have started to join police forces. A decree signed by President Hamid Karzai in 2009 made rape a crime for the first time, while also banning violence against women, child marriage, forced marriage and the denial of rights to education or work.

Those gains are tentative, the International Crisis Group said in an October report, “Women and Conflict in Afghanistan.” The decree signed by Karzai has yet to be ratified by the Parliament, where conservative lawmakers have called it un-Islamic, the group said. The country’s new electoral law calls for reducing a quota for female parliamentarians to 20 percent from 25 percent.

Taliban Opposition

Since Afghan National Security Forces took the lead role from U.S. and other foreign forces in the middle of last year, “insurgent threats to women have increased,” according to the Brussels-based group. Women’s rights “are also under attack from yesterday’s warlords, now power brokers both within and outside government.”

While some of the candidates for president have affirmed their support for women’s rights, the Taliban say that if they return to rule or share power they will bar women from wearing Western clothes and girls from sharing classrooms with boys.

“A change in the current Afghan constitution is highly required to keep Afghan women’s rights low,” Zabihullah Mujahed, a Taliban spokesman, said in a phone interview.

Women in public roles increasingly have come under attack. On Jan. 2, two gunmen on a motorbike in the western Afghan city of Herat shot to death Yalda Waziri, 25, who worked for the local government, according to the BBC. In the same province, Lieutenant Negar, 38 a female police official who like many Afghans went by one name, was shot and killed in September, a few months after her female predecessor was killed in a similar fashion, the BBC reported.

Small Business

“There are real fears of losing the progress that has been

Embroidered Panels

Together, they’ve invested $250,000 in computerized Chinese machines that make decorative embroidered panels. Afghans sew the embroidery onto a shalwar-kameez, a loose-fitting tunic and pant worn by men in the country.

In addition to the 20 workers at the factory, the company employs 300 women who work from their homes and turn out hand-made embroidery, Sherzad said. The products are sold in Afghanistan as far west and south as Herat and Kandahar, generating a profit of about $5,000 a month, the co-owners said in interviews.

In a country where conservative Islamic groups still forbid mixing genders, the partnership between Ahmad, 50, and Sherzad stands out all the more because they belong to tribes that traditionally have clashed. She’s a Pashtun, a Sunni majority group from the south that includes the Taliban, and he’s a Hazara, a predominantly Shiite minority group from the north.

Persuading Family

Sherzad’s family, including her missing husband’s brother and other Pashtun men, “were against the partnership because I’m a Hazara,” Ahmad said through an interpreter. He said he persisted because “she has very good skills in marketing, and knows how to encourage people, and how to talk to people and sell products.”

Ahmad said he prevailed by telling Sherzad’s brother-in-law: “If you’re feeling so protective about her, why don’t you provide food for her and her two daughters? If you can, that’s OK. But if you’re not, then she should be able to work.”

Amid uncertainty over a presidential election scheduled for April and the departure of most foreign troops by year-end, “There’s a fear if Taliban return to power, we’ll lose all the progress we’ve made,” Ahmad said. “She will not be able to come work here, and I will not be able to reach her.”

In contrast, a select group of Afghan girls and women who’ve grown up in the last decade, gone to school and are familiar with computers may find online sanctuary if Mahboob’s online initiative succeeds.

Internet Use

Internet penetration in Afghanistan has grown to 5.5 Web users per 100 people in 2012 from 1 per 1,000 in 2003, according to World Bank data. By comparison, Afghanistan’s neighbor Pakistan had 10 Internet users per 100 people in 2012, according to the bank.

Mahboob, whose Afghan Citadel Software Co. was started with the help of the U.S. Defense Department’s Task Force for Business and Stability Operations, has developed an online blogging and film platform called Women’s Annex.

It lets women work from their homes to produce content that’s then featured on social-media websites. Advertising revenue generated by the sites is shared with the content creators, Mahboob said.

“We have created a technology that shows influence” and a scoring system that indicates the popularity of content that members of the Women’s Annex develop, Mahboob said. “Based on that they can make $5 to $100 a day” depending on how popular their blog or story is, she said.

Day’s Pay

The average daily wage for an Afghan construction worker in 2012 was $5.70, according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime. Among the few jobs paying more than what Mahboob cited as the minimum women can earn online is the thriving drug trade: Collecting opium gum from poppies yields $11.70 a day, the agency found.

Mahboob’s business is based on Film Annex, a technology that her Italian business partner, philanthropist Francesco Rulli, developed to create Web videos. Mahboob’s company also has developed an online examination and vocational training tool called Examer that she’s promoting to Afghan schools, as well as to other countries in the region.

Mahboob — who was named one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world last year because of her role as a female entrepreneur working to expand Internet access for women — says a conservative interpretation of Islamic theology isn’t the only force threatening to confine Afghan women behind closed doors.

She said they also must contend with common criminals, as well as men envious of a successful woman.

“I’m worried about kidnapping or they say bad stuff about me,” Mahboob said. Those are all reasons why “I’ve shifted my business to work online and want to give these tools to other women,” Mahboob said.

“Even if the Taliban are back, women can get online education, even if fighting starts,” she said, before pausing to acknowledge a potential weakness in her plans.

“If fighting starts, then I don’t know if the Internet will be available,” she said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Gopal Ratnam in Kabul at gratnam1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: John Walcott at jwalcott9@bloomberg.net

made,” said Afshan Khan, chief executive officer of Women for Women International, a Washington-based nonprofit group that helps women in war-torn countries rebuild their lives.

In the last decade, Women for Women has trained 46,000 Afghan women, providing them with skills to operate small businesses. The group also has distributed $26 million in stipends and micro-credits, Khan said.

Sherzad, who had no schooling and raised two daughters after her husband disappeared, graduated from Women for Women’s one-year training program. She teamed up two years ago with Nesar Ahmad to expand the embroidery business he operated.

 

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January 22, 2014 · 8:32 pm