In the words of Zarina*: “I am heartbroken, but hopeful”.

Zarina*, 28, is a young Afghan woman entrepreneur. Her drive for innovating and passion for baking made her one of Afghanistan’s youngest entrepreneurs. Her business is still running, but her clients are scarce and her plans for expansion across the country had to be shut down.

I told myself that I should travel to Kabul and buy additional equipment, including a fridge, before I expanded my bakery business. This dream never came true as my country fell into the hands of the Taliban.

I used to run a business in my province. I employed five women to bake cookies and cakes that I would sell in a shop I rented in the women’s market.

In Afghanistan, bakery businesses thrive during Eid—a festival that brings Afghan families together to mark new beginnings. For Eid, Afghans welcome guests into their homes where they serve cookies, cakes, donuts, cream rolls, pastries and dried fruits.

My province is very isolated. Mountains and unpaved and bumpy roads discourage people from travelling outside the province unless there is an urgent need. Fearing the damage along the way, shopkeepers do not bring bakery products from Kabul—the capital city of Afghanistan and the main hub where food, clothes and everyday essentials are transported to other provinces. I decided to produce all of these in my province.  First I opened the bakery business, then I rented my own shop in town. Here is where I sold other items produced by women—handicrafts that celebrate our culture and clothes for women and children.

As word spread that there was a bakery open in our province, people would travel from remote villages to purchase my products. I then realised it was time to expand the business by opening more shops around town. This meant hiring more women and buying the equipment—like fridges to store and keep the products fresh.

Within those weeks, as I was planning my expansion, the Taliban took over Afghanistan. I did not expand my business; I had to shut it down. The women I employed lost their jobs—most people in my province lost their jobs. Women faced restrictions in running businesses and working at all. Businesses can barely survive as people have lost their jobs and there is no purchasing power anymore, and as banks are no longer able to give financial loans.

I am heartbroken, but hopeful. I recently re-opened my business, and I am working on a marketing plan to keep it running. Now that many households know about my business—and since women need a women-friendly space more than ever—I am determined to make anniversaries, celebrations and family occasions memorable by serving fresh cookies, cakes and pastries. My shop will again be a place for women to come together.

* Names, locations, and course of events have been changed in this article to ensure the safety of the Afghan woman human rights defender featured.

UN Women is on the ground in Afghanistan, supporting Afghan women and girls every day. Our in-country strategy pivots around investing in women—from scaling up support for women survivors of violence in provinces where we have never been before to supporting women humanitarian workers in the delivery of essential services and providing seed capital to women-led businesses. Central to our work remains the goal of rebuilding the Afghan women’s movement.

Originally published on UN Women