Evidence and Learning Note Business Environment Reform and Women’s Economic Empowerment in Afghanistan May 2017

This BERF Evidence and Learning Note was commissioned to address the evidence gap on business environment reforms that should be adopted by Afghanistan to promote sustainable women’s economic empowerment. DFID will use the evidence from this assignment to design the Women’s Economic Empowerment pillar of its new investment climate programme.


Afghanistan is a fragile state with issues of security, low levels of economic development and high levels of donor involvement in the economy. Challenges to Women’s Economic Empowerment include adverse social norms and customary practices which limit women’s movement and participation in the economy. On the other hand the country has recently gained accession to the World Trade Organisation and the policy environment is supportive as is reflected in the Women’s Economic Empowerment National Priority Programme. Moreover, despite the challenging context, there are plenty of examples of women who are in employment or have their own business.

Key Recommendations

Whilst the report includes a range of possible actions, the recommended priority Business Environment Reform areas for action in promoting Women’s Economic Empowerment in Afghanistan that came out of this research include a) improving market information, b) broadening public-private dialogue and c) supporting land titling.

  • Improving women entrepreneurs’ access to market information and advice is vital to enabling women to access markets, to compete effectively and to increase their Solutions based around Information and Communication Technologies and the widespread use of mobile phones provide opportunities for significant gains for women, with the ‘Katalyst’ programme in Bangladesh, being a leading international example.   Information Technology can also help to circumvent general security issues as well as gender specific restrictions on movement. Women’s trade associations also have a key role to play in opening up access to information on markets and products, as well as providing a potential route for sharing the cost of research and marketing. Access to market information further increases in importance if women are to take advantage of the opportunities created by World Trade Organisation accession.
  • Broadening public-private dialogue to include women’s voices is critical for ensuring that the business environment is conducive to supporting, not undermining women’s Recommended actions include: creation of women only consultation opportunities; inclusion of women in consultations with local chambers of commerce where possible; and local government level task committees that include women business representatives. The Sustainable Economic Development and Employment Promotion Project provides an example to be assessed for potential replication in other provinces. ‘EconoWin’ in the Middle East and North Africa region promoted regional collaboration between four business associations to discuss possible ways to raise awareness of gender diversity at the workplace.
  • Supporting land titling is both a strategic and transformational intervention that DFID could support to facilitate women’s access to business Two key intervention strategies that have been used successfully elsewhere are: informing communities about Sharia law and the rights of women to inheritance, and, secondly; developing registers of land owned by women independently and jointly (GEMS 3 in Nigeria providing an effective example).

In addition to these priority areas for action, it is vital that the key socio-economic barriers to women’s engagement in enterprise and employment are tackled hand in hand with business environment reforms. The key contextual barriers highlighted in this review are 1) addressing social and cultural norms and 2) tackling concerns around women’s security.

  • Widely held social norms restrict economic and social opportunities for women.  Of particular importance to women’s economic activity is the widespread misinterpretation of Sharia Law’s guidance on women as economic actors and on land ownership that impact on women’s ability to secure collateral and to engage in economic life. Working with established structures and ensuring buy-in from the community and men are essential. Raising awareness and encouraging discussion on the importance and value of women’s work can be an important part of developing this buy-in. This report identifies a number of areas for action, including: educating religious, community and influential leaders; media campaigns; making more of women role models in resistant communities; and working with men and boys and the wider community to support women’s enterprise and employment.
  • Concerns about security emerged consistently in consultations and document reviews as a key constraint to both women’s employment and It is strongly recommended that actions to prevent violence and harassment against women in the workplace and on the way to work are included in any package to improve the environment for women’s economic empowerment. Extensive evidence and examples of best practice are available globally and can be accessed through DFID’s Violence Against Women and Girls helpdesk (not covered in this evidence review as beyond the initial remit). In conflict zones one of the major additional hurdles faced is transportation and mobility, creating additional challenges for women’s economic endeavours. These include a higher cost of production, risk of damage to products and border crossing delays. These challenges impact both women and men´s enterprises, but women lack the information and mobility to make necessary adjustments to pricing and output.

The National Priority Programme has put forward a comprehensive set of measures for Women’s Economic Empowerment and within these are a number of sub-components related to Business Environment Reform. Key areas to address are:

  • Improving access to credit, both informal and
  • Accessing and analysing market information to support the creative

Finally, no single initiative is likely to lead to Women’s Economic Empowerment, but all will contribute to achieving empowerment by addressing different elements of the evolving framework. Similarly, ‘No one size fits all.’ Different approaches are needed for different groups of women, reflecting not only variations in capacity but also variations in need. It is important to take a long-term approach and build capacity for change through learning.