An Afghan entrepreneur still makes waves under the Taliban rule to help girls receive education and learn important skills under the cover of secrecy.
Before the collapse of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, the 43-year-old operated a popular restaurant in the capital Kabul, where men and women dined together regardless of marital status, and for female customers to do without a hijab.
However, with the return of the Taliban to power in August 2021, her entrepreneurial spirit risked like everyone else. She was in a state of shock and believed that all her gains were lost.
“I felt as though an earthquake had struck and taken everything away from me,” she said. Taj Begum restaurant was closed as the Taliban did not allow women to run such businesses. But leaving with the thousands of others fearing a return to the Taliban’s brutal rule of the 1990s was not an option for the trailblazer.
Instead of fleeing the country, she chose to remain in Afghanistan and provide a safety umbrella for some Afghan women who had nowhere to go.
“Half of society has been wiped out from the face of the earth. As a woman, I have taken it upon myself to act not only for my own benefit but for the benefit of all women,” she said.
Following the regime change, the Afghan female entrepreneur founded the Mother Educational Center (MEC). The center provides an opportunity for 500 girls to receive education in diverse subjects, such as photography, jewelry design, painting, maths, physics, and the English language.
Initially, MEC had two branches, one in the backstreets of Kabul, and another in the central Afghan province of Daikundi. Due to a lack of funds, the Diadundi branch shut down last year, however, girls still attend classes in the Kabul branch.
Besides learning valuable skills in diverse subjects, female students are beginning to earn an income from making jewelry and other items from discarded ammunition. The income through minimum will contribute a lot towards their family’s living conditions during these difficult times.