Out of Exile: Women Return to Afghanistan to Start New Lives and Businesses with Help from UNDP

Gulsoom
Kulsoom, a worker of the UNDP-supported women’s business, is busy making spaghetti. © UNDP Afghanistan / Omer Sadaat / 2016

4 January 2017Mazar-e-Sharif — Gulsoom Kohistani was born in Iran and in her early teens when her family decided to return to Afghanistan after two decades of exile.

Along with hundreds of other families, Gulsoom’s family settled in Aliabad – a township 20 kilometers northeast of Balkh’s Mazar-e-Sharif. For most of them, the ongoing insurgency meant it was too dangerous to return to their original homes. They had to start new lives from scratch.

Highlights

  • UNDP provided equipment and training for 47 women in Mazar-e-Sharif to set up a small business producing pickles, spices, jams and spaghetti.
  • Gulsoom’s monthly income of US$70 is critical because her husband’s business is not doing well. She spends it on new clothes and school fees for her children.
  • Since 2013, with generous funding from the Republic of Korea, UNDP has helped nearly 1,000 women entrepreneurs set up businesses in Afghanistan.

For the first few years, Gulsoom and her neighbors wove carpets. But the work was hard and the income small. So UNDP provided equipment and training for 47 of the women to set up a small business producing pickles, spices, jams and spaghetti.

Gulsoom was one of them. “Our carpets didn’t really sell well, but this work brings us a better income,” she says.

Food factory picWomen using equipment provided by UNDP to produce pickles, jams and spaghetti. © UNDP Afghanistan / Omer Sadaat / 2016

Gulsoom is now 24 years old and married with three children. With growth stagnant in Afghanistan, her husband’s business hasn’t been doing well, making her income critical for the family’s welfare. 

The US$70 Gulsoom makes each month mean she can afford new clothes and school fees for her children.

“I try my best to look after my kids, so they can be successful in their lives,” says Gulsoom. “They don't have to be illiterate like us.”

Since 2013, and with generous funding from the Republic of Korea, UNDP has helped nearly 1,000 women entrepreneurs set up businesses in Afghanistan.

As well as equipment, we have provided business training and access to new markets through national and regional trade fairs.

With ongoing support from the Republic of Korea, UNDP will create jobs for another 500 Afghan women in 2017.

This initiative was part of UNDP’s Gender Equality II Project, which was supported by the Republic of KoreaOur new gender project, EGEMA, is also funded by the Republic of Korea. It works to improve data and mainstream gender in national policies, empower women economically, and change behavior by working with mullahs and youth. 

 Women using equipment provided by UNDP to produce pickles, jams and spaghetti. © UNDP Afghanistan / Omer Sadaat / 2016