A Dull Nawroz in Balkh: Female Vendors Express Concern Over Decreasing Businesses

Due to the Taliban‘s opposition to Nawroz and the poverty in Afghanistan, the province of Balkh did not celebrate Nowruz. The annual Jandabala ceremony provided vendors with a great opportunity to make money and provide a pleasant experience for visitors. Every year, businesswomen in Balkh would arrange a variety of events during Nowruz and the Rose Festival, such as presenting exhibitions of provincial handicrafts and cooking Samanak, which would change the atmosphere in MazareSharif, the center of Balkh province, and positively affect the businesswomen‘s income. However, these vendors are now lamenting the decline in market incomes, which used to be between 50,000 and 100,000 AFN.

In a conversation with HashteSubh, Zinat (a pseudonym) who runs one of the shops at RabiaeBalkhi‘s marketplace for women stated that, during the former republic, businesswomen used to gather in the market to prepare their shops 20 days before the Nawroz holiday. She went on to say,In the past, families would come here to purchase fruits for Nawroz. However, under the rule of the Taliban, this is no longer the case. Whatever the restrictions may be, we can clearly see how they affect women.”

Shabnam, a pseudonym, reported that hundreds of families who had travelled to Mazare Sharif from other provinces to celebrate Nawroz purchased gifts from Rabia Balkhi Market, with each shopkeeper spending between 50,000 and 100,000 AFN. This provided Afghan women with a source of income, however, the Taliban destroyed it.

Despite having participated in other events, the female vendors in Balkh province relied heavily on Nawroz sales as Balkh was the center of the Nawroz, which used to draw in thousands of visitors for both tourism and to witness the renowned Janda Bala event. These visitors would spend thousands of AFN and purchase gifts and local Balkhi sweets to take back to their home provinces. However, in the past two years, the majority of families have chosen not to travel to Balkh province due to the Taliban‘s opposition to the Nawroz holiday and the widespread poverty in Afghanistan.

Zarifa Sahel (a pseudonym), another shopkeeper at RabiaeBalkhi, informed HashteSubh that she had ceased operating her shop in the market and had remained at home for a year since there were no customers. People had previously visited the market for their annual shopping as well as for Nawroz, so they had been content. However, the Taliban had prohibited anyone other than women from entering the marketplace, which had caused almost all female business owners to shut down their stores.

The city center of MazareSharif is home to the RabieBalkhi marketplace, which is exclusively for women. This marketplace used to have stores that sold Afghan clothing and crafts, as well as smaller businesses that employed dozens of women. Unfortunately, due to the Taliban‘s restrictions, women are no longer able to work in these businesses.

The shopkeeper declared that she was in the process of relocating her shop from the market. She noted that her shop had been a popular destination for customers, where she produced chutney and jam. She had previously sold around 500 bottles of her products during the Nawroz holidays, but due to a 60% decrease in business this year compared to previous years, she had to move her shop to a different part of the city.

This year, the Taliban imposed stricter regulations on the observance of the Nawroz holiday and prohibited mountain climbing among the residents of Balkh province. However, during the last year of the former Afghan Republic, the mila-e-Gol-e-Sorkh (Red Rose Festival ) and Nawroz holiday were celebrated for forty days in Balkh province, attracting visitors from all over Afghanistan.