Herat businesswoman succeeds amid strong opposition

  • 24 Oct. 2011 -
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  • Last updated: 20 Oct. 2011 14:53

Close to the border of Iran, lies the historic city of Herat, famed for its monuments dating back to the age of Timor Lane and his daughter-in-law, the famous female Afghan leader, Gorharshad.

The mosque she founded still stands and today another successful Afghan woman walks amongst its minarets to find inspiration.

“She is a symbol to all Afghan women, who want to be successful to achieve their goals and their vision,” says Roya Mahboob, the CEO of Herat's most successful software development company.

A refugee in Iran until 2003, she returned to Afghanistan where she started volunteering in a French NGO that specialised in media and taught her English. From there she put herself through university, graduating with a computer sciences degree and now runs an NGO for women as well as her own company.

Succeeding against the odds

If that sounds impressive, it shouldn’t be forgotten that Roya achieved all this in the face of opposition from conservative attitudes and repeated threats via phone and email. Although she was scared at first, the persistence of the messages and the detailed knowledge of her movements soon convinced the young businesswoman that the threats were more likely to come from local people with a grudge than from the Taliban, who she felt would have neither the time nor the interest to follow her so closely.

She also drives to work – an extremely rare sight in Afghanistan, where very few women drive. This has also attracted negative attention, as she tells us while behind the wheel.

“They are giving warning and sometimes are making problem and calling to my cell phone and they are saying, 'ok, you should stop driving or you shouldn't work with the foreign people'.”

Leading the way

Her company, the Afghan Citadel Software Company (ACSC), has already developed software for a local hospital, helping them shift from paper to digital records.  It was also instrumental in NATO's Silk Afghanistan project, which brought reliable internet to Herat university.

This success has not just attracted negative reactions towards Roya. The women she works with have also been threatened and in a very 21st century way. One female software developer tells us she received an email threatening to hack the Company’s website. The first attempt was successful, but now they've improved their web security and, despite continued threats from would-be hackers, it hasn't happened again.

Over half of Roya's staff are women, a feat in a highly conservative society, where families will often stop their daughters working out of fear of reprisals. But Suzanna, ACSC's media officer, explains that the company's success, plus Roya's visits to her father, have soothed her family's fears. Dressed in a bright, rainbow-coloured scarf, she shyly shows us her latest video online.

“When my father saw my video on YouTube, he was very happy and he didn't believe that I made that video and the title is with my name, Suzanna, that is the director. And then I made him believe in me.”

Modern pioneers like Roya and her staff will always have to work harder to fulfil their dreams. But with drive like theirs, it's hard to see how they won't find a way.