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Empowering Women Through Employment

UNDP’s Gender Equality project helped to give women the tools and skills to make their own income

April 2011 - In Afghanistan, only a small fraction of women are employed in full-time jobs or have the chance to earn any income. A combination of factors, including lack of education and a tradition of purdah (seclusion) have limited both the types of employment opportunities for women and the numbers of females in the labor force. In the government, for example, the largest formal employer in the country, almost four times more males than females are employed at the central level.  

UNDP’s Institutional Capacity Building for Gender Equality (GEP) project has worked in three provinces in Afghanistan on a number of initiatives aimed at empowering and informing women. In two rural districts of Herat, GEP started a pilot project to train women in income generation activities, so that they can provide for their families independent from their husbands.


Mahjabin, 52, makes an additional $80/month selling produce to neighbors and the local markets. “[This] is a good project that can bring food and income for women and their poor families. I, on behalf of the Ghoryan district council, appreciate UNDP for its attention to women.”

Forty women in their 40s and 50s, some of whom have never had a job before, spent three months learning how to grow produce in greenhouses, and sell them on the local markets.

Says Zargul, 40, “I am a housewife and my husband is a worker but we are a poor family. Thanks to UNDP support and my work in the greenhouse, I earn around 4,000 Afs per month ($90).”

Mahjabin, a member of the district women’s council, earns approximately 3,500 Afs per month ($80) through the greenhouse. “My husband is a retired teacher and suffering from cancer,” she says. “My oldest son is a student so I am now head of the family, managing my children and life. This income is really supporting me to manage my children and their education better,” Mahjabin says.

Out of the 40 women who participated in the pilot project, 32 are now generating income from selling their produce, earning approximately $40-$60 a month.

“I have good feeling about the income,” says Zargul, “because I decide for myself how to spend it for my children.”

The Gender Equality project, in collaboration with the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, promotes gender equity and women’s rights in Afghanistan. The project aims to develop the capacity of government ministries and institution to design and implement effective gender mainstreaming models. The project is supported by the governments of Canada, Italy, and the UK.

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