Badghis Women’s Only Market

In Badghis, the women’s market is expanding, offering freedom and entrepreneurship to women from all backgrounds. Badghis’ women’s market started with a mere 15 stalls. Today it has taken over one of the biggest buildings in town, boasting a total of 52 stores and supporting 85 women to venture out of their homes and independently open their own businesses. The market is open every day from 8am to 5pm and is located in the vibrant town centre. Outside its doors, men cruise by on motorbikes or sit in their shops. The streets are busy with cars and people running errands.

In 2014, World Vision started working with the women, recognising that Qala-e-Naw, Badghis’ provincial capital, had no dedicated space in which women could mingle, work, and sell their goods. While many women remain at home to raise their children, their creativity is not constrained by these circumstances; they produce intricate handicrafts, tailored clothes, and traditional food.

The market first opened in 2017, but earlier this year it moved into a bigger building, which is able to host even more female entrepreneurs. Most shops are rented out for a monthly price of 500 AFN, about $7, and the women say that the ability to sell their products in the market has more than doubled their monthly incomes.

“The women who shop here come from all over, because the market has made headlines. It is famous now,” says Najiba Sadaat, 43, with a big smile. She runs one of the market’s bakeries, making fresh bread and Bolani, a local calzone filled with vegetables and potatoes and fried in oil. “The handicrafts are especially popular,” she adds.

Najiba’s restaurant business is going well. Her shop is a small room with turquoise walls and a big sheet spread on the floor, where most of the work is done. Big windows shine natural light into the room, but she has electricity, too, to illuminate her work on cloudy days. She initially started the business with 2,500 AFN, no more than $30. Today, she has over 80 clients and makes up to $10 in a day. She uses her income to buy new supplies and spends the rest on her children’s schooling. The market is the only place where she feels free. “At first, many of our husbands and even the religious leaders didn’t like the idea that we had a market. But World Vision was able to talk to them and convince them.  We used to be a small group of five women, and we’ve grown into a big community. Now we freely engage in our business and we have the blessing of our family as well.”

Najiba’s story reflects a widespread experience: For many women, selling their goods at the market wasn’t easy at first, and some of the women even received threats. All of them powered through. “This business is making us women strong. The danger is gone and we’re now focusing on expanding,” Najiba explains.

No men are allowed in the market, unless their visits have been previously arranged. “That’s exactly why it’s a free space,” says Najiba. “I don’t have to cover here. I’m surrounded by women who have become my close friends.” Najiba’s blue burqa hangs in a corner of her shop. She wears it when venturing outside, but inside the market, she can move freely.

Freshta, a 20-year-old tailor, joined the women’s market this year. She originally trained as a nurse but wasn’t able to find a job in her hometown. Because she grew up doing tailoring work, she decided to try working as a tailor and entrepreneur. So far, it is going well.

Wearing a dark dress and a headscarf, Freshta sits on the carpet in her shop, working on a detailed embroidery pattern. She received one of her sewing machines from World Vision and shares her shop with another tailor, who has become a good friend. “I like working here because I get to be around other women, and it’s a place where I can relax,” she says. Freshta isn’t married and lives with her family, who she now supports with her income. “My parents don’t have much and never went to school,” she says. “I was able to study so I promised myself to always support my family.”

Both Freshta and Najiba say that they barely leave the market during the day; it has everything they need. The three-story building is freshly painted, and its big windows shine bright light inside. The shops circle around a balcony, with a big mezzanine at the entrance where tables and chairs are stacked. Though it’s quieter upstairs, the market is busy near its entrance, where most of its restaurants are located. Many of the women bring their younger children, who play together during the day.

“It’s a safe space for all of us, even for our children,” says Najiba. Many women say that the market has turned their lives around. Mastoora, a 35-year-old mother who sells knitwear says that she used to sit at home most days. “My husband is a daily labourer and brings little money home. I wanted to change something about our life, but I didn’t think it was possible. I’ve learned that I can make things happen now. It has changed my attitude and it will also change the future of my children.”