ZABUL PROVINCE, Afghanistan -Virginia Army National Guard 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team members, Joint Sustainment Command - Afghanistan, and Provincial Reconstruction Team Zabul conducted a foot patrol through the Qalat bazaar Oct. 19 to visit a new local business venture.
The team followed up on two local women who have started an almond and raisin-cleaning business with funds they received from a small-business grant.
The Combined Team Zabul Female Engagement Team worked with Fatima and Bibi Hawa to get the project started and returned to conduct a quality assessment of the business and to help iron out some wrinkles. The establishment of the business is a small victory for the CTZ FET.
"We are giving someone an opportunity to create an environment, led by women, where women can be employed to earn a sensible living," said Army Capt. Iajaira Perez, the CTZ FET officer in charge. "Projects like this allow women to work together to make small changes within their communities."
As one of the more conservative regions in the country, Zabul province has been slow to recognize the positive contributions women have the potential to bring to the community.
Through the use of small-business grants, the local government and coalition forces are working together to change that dogma.
"The true assessment of the value gained through this investment will continue to be realized for years to come," said Army Lt. Col. Joel Jeffers, assigned to the 4th Expeditionary Sustainment Command serving in Kandahar. "This type of investment empowers those normally oppressed to realize a dream and expand their own visions, and break the norm."
The tolerance level will rise with the number of women who enter the workforce.
"This is a perfect way to establish women within the corporate structure of Qalat," Jeffers said.
"Giving grants to women that push the norm and empower women to become self-sufficient as a provider not only assists the family by producing another income, but provides a new level of respect and lets the town know that women can still be religious, handle a family and gradually begin to change minds as to the overall status of women."
Not only do these small businesses help the women, but they also aid coalition forces with counterinsurgency operations.
"These businesses are COIN in action," said Jeffers. "They are locally owned and operated, employ local workers and provide a continuing means of employment which may keep some of the local population from assisting the insurgents for money, and spur them to expel any insurgents that could be disrupting their livelihood."
The idea is to create jobs for the locals so they don't have to turn to the insurgents for their survival, but with so many widows and wives with incapacitated husbands in the area, it's hard for women to find work.
"I would love to see more women-owned and run businesses such as a women's clothing store, bakery and restaurants," Perez said.
The CTZ FET is planning a women's shura to discuss future business opportunities.