Raqiba uses raw materials she imports from India, Pakistan, and Iran to produce various handicrafts including vases and cloth. Every item in Raqiba’s shop is made by her creative colleagues, whom she trained in tailoring, knitting, needlework, and embroidery. Once without any skill, work, or income, these women have learned skills to produce valuable goods and earn their own income now. They work out of their homes and receive the materials from Raqiba.
Housing 53 shops, Rabia Balkhi is the only marketplace in Balkh Province where all the shopkeepers are women. A sizable number of shops are dedicated to handicrafts, and most of the products are for women and children. Raqiba was one of the first businesswomen to enter and start her own business in the marketplace.
Although Raqiba had a lot of experience in business transactions as a shopkeeper, she did not have the knowledge of running a professional business until four years ago when she was trained in a program supported by the Afghanistan Rural Enterprise Development Program (AREDP).
Started in 2010, AREDP works towards strengthening market linkages and value chains for rural enterprises by providing technical support to over 1,400 Enterprise Groups (63 percent female) and 500 Small Medium Enterprises (14 percent female) that have been selected for their potential as key drivers of rural employment and income generation. It receives funding support from the World Bank and Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund (ARTF).
Support increases jobs and income for women
Jan Mohammad Dosti, AREDP Regional Coordinator in Balkh says: “AREDP, in its second phase, has supported 102 small and medium enterprises in the areas of marketing, management, equipment, planning, registration, and introduction to domestic and foreign exhibitions.”
The AREDP training program taught Raqiba professional business management, marketing, customer relations, packaging, and exhibiting products. It gave her support to attend national and international exhibitions so that she could learn from other participants and also use the opportunity to showcase her products and forge business relations. She was also given a grant to buy two knitting machines and an overlock machine.
This support she received has helped her expand the business, and she is now able to run her small business and properly manage her financial accounts. “People have seen my work from the beginning. My work has changed so markedly and has improved after the training,” she says.
Soraya Noori, 39, is one of the trainees whom Raqiba trained professionally in knitting winter wear, with AREDP support. She has a home-based knitting company now and produces winter clothes using knitting machines. “Before, we used to hand-knit clothes, which required more work and took longer time. But now we knit more clothes in less time,” she says.
Although hand-knit clothes are more expensive, working with knitting machines has helped Soraya to increase her output by 50 percent. This additional output has subsequently increased her income, which covers all of her household expenses. Moreover, she has created job opportunities for 25 other women, who also earn their own income.
“Many women have been able to develop their own handicraft business in Rabia Balkhi marketplace,” says Habiba Rasuli, 62, who runs her own handicraft and clothes shop in the market. She was also a trainee at Raqiba’s training program in knitting and is now considered a master.