An Afghan woman’s triumphant journey!
By all accounts and appearances, Saweeta Durrani, a microfinance client of First Microfinance Bank Afghanistan (FMFB-A), has become a highly successful, young businesswoman, privileged to enjoy the best of both worlds.
Professionally, the 26-year old Economics graduate from Herat University leveraged her academic achievement to turn her passion for jewelry design into a thriving business. Personally, she fulfills her role as wife to her husband; mother to her 10-year old son and five-year old daughter; and caretaker of her extended family.
A woman able to straddle the clashing demands of career and culture, Saweeta is a rare breed in Afghan society. But as she herself would say, her success has always been accompanied by struggles. “It is impossible to be an Afghan woman and not experience ups and downs.”
Saweeta has come a long way since she started her business four years ago, with only AFN50, 000 (nearly $1,000). Today, Saweeta owns and runs her jewelry manufacturing company specializing in gemstones and now has three stores across Herat province. Her firm is also a supplier to jewelry chains in other major cities in the country, including Kabul.
Saweeta had to go through a series of struggles. Five years ago, before she could even pursue her business idea, her husband’s family was already shutting it down. Her in-laws held the traditional belief that the woman’s place is in the home looking after the whole family. Saweeta recalled: “It took a long time to convince them that I can manage both, the home and the business.”
Her success would not have been possible without the loan from FMFB-A, which accepted her application backed by two women guarantors, based on her track record and business expansion plan. She used the loan to purchase her own polishing machines for gemstones, which significantly enhanced her production capacity and the quality of gemstones her company sells in the market, while reducing her overhead costs.
Before acquiring such machines, Saweeta, like many others in the same business, had to purchase Afghan gemstones at marked up prices because they were shipped to either India or Pakistan for polishing. As a result, the final product costs higher, which impacts sale and profit. By investing in her own machines, Saweeta was able to maximize her profit without passing own additional costs to potential clients.
But for Saweeta, the definition of success is broader. “I don’t look at success from financial window only. I have trained many other women. Some of them run their own businesses independently, and some of them are working with me. This is a success for me.”
Her struggle to access credit as a woman is also experienced by a majority of Afghans, men and women across the country, who are unbanked and do not have the credentials to access financial services from formal institutions.
This is what the MISFA is trying to address by promoting financial inclusion by on-lending funds and technical supports to microfinance institutions, including Saweeta’s lender FMFB-A.
Published by MISFA (Microfinance Investment Support Facility for Afghanistan)
By Matin Ezidyar