Occasionally I get ideas from readers. This is one of those times. Thanks to the Diplopundit for pointing this one out. If you have an even passing interest in anything related to the Department of State, you need to follow that blog.
You may be aware that President Karzai went to Washington this last week. It probably looked nothing like this:
Although it would have been awesome. And my choice of video is in no way a reflection on my opinions on the American effort in Afghanistan. Nope, nope, nope.
Out of his meetings with President Obama came a joint statement. I’d go into it in depth, but that would a) take time and b) has been done my much sharper people than myself. But one glaring omission from the joint statement was any specific mention of the rights of women. Which is troubling, given the violence that’s being done to women on a disturbingly regular basis in this country. So it would be natural for the women of Afghanistan to be somewhat concerned with their future. But not to worry: ISAF is on it. In a sure sign that its headquarters will be here post-2014, the International Security Assistance Force held its monthly bazaar for the ladies.
Embracing their newfound independence and inserting themselves in an increasingly more secure and modern Afghanistan, some local women have organized to hold new type of traditional bazaar.
Each month, weather and security permitting, International Security Assistance Force invites the 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.
What’s encouraging is that a “more secure” Afghanistan means, in this case, ISAF HQ. Tip of the hat to the leadership of our fighting forces for keeping their headquarters secure. That alone should give us hope for the future of Afghanistan.
And what an amazing contribution to the economic prosperity of this amazing country:
“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 earning 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.
$12,000 dollars/year in a country where the GDP per capita is estimated to be around $600? That’s amazing! I mean, with that kind of money they’re probably saving a ton every year. There’s no chance they’re just spending it at a higher rate as their standard of living increases, is there? What a wonderfully inventive way for ISAF to bolster the economy. Who’s behind the marvel of entrepreneurship?
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.
Nothing says “self-sufficiency” like setting up shop on a fortified military compound, but you know what always brings a tear to my eye? Afghan-Americans returning to the land of their birth just to give back. It’s heartwarming tales like this that give me hope for humanity, friends. And she’s making sure they can read, as well.
“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.”
It seems like only yesterday I was learning how to read in the US, converting dollars to pesos to francs and back to loonies again. It’s this kind of forward thinking literacy strategy, coupled with limited English that’s going to make sure this all ends well. And they’re not just at headquarters. They’re reaching out across Afghanistan.
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.
That right there’s a whole lot of sustainability just waiting to happen, folks: bazaars at highly fortified coalition bases scattered across Kabul. And one in Parwan. Good…has been done. And it’s not just the women who benefit:
Air Force Tech. Sgt. 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.
TSgt. Williams is referring to the other bazaar, the dark, culturally amazing place that’s set up right across the street on the ISAF HQ soccer field/helipad. If you’ve ever had the pleasure, there’s nothing quite like having 20 different versions of the same Rolex knockoff watch shoved in your face repeatedly as you make your way through the stalls. It, too, is a place that reeks of long-term economic development and the stench of hope wafts freely through one’s nostrils.
I’d like to hear from you, readers: anyone have any experiences with bazaars, either here or elsewhere? Am I over the top in my praise of this visionary endeavor, or should we look at this in a more critical light? Could there possibly be a better way to economically empower the women of Kabulistan?
Until next time, stay on the sunny side!