Afghan female entrepreneur sets up her own travel agency

Marjana Sadat at the Banoo travel agency. Photo credit: Huffpost_Zainab Farahmand / Sahar Speaks

TMP – 21/09/2017

As a way to show that women in Afghanistan can do the same things as men, Marjana Sadat set up her own travel agency last year. The agency, called Banoo, now employs 10 women. Its customers can book flights and tours to countries in Asia and Europe.

“I wanted to prove that women can work as salespeople just like men, like in the bazaar. In our society, it is common for people to think only men can set up businesses,” says 21-year-old Marjana.

Before launching Banoo, Marjana worked at a private radio station in Kabul, where she often experienced discrimination by her male peers. After five years at the radio station, she decided to do something different and started to build the Banoo Company.

When Marjana shared her idea with her parents they immediately backed her. “I started the business when my father invested in my idea and supported me,” Marjana explains.

While Marjana and her colleagues would receive many negative comments from other people in the beginning, they now have a lot of support in the community.

“I now get lots of messages from people. They commend us, and I am proud of what we have achieved,” Marjana says. Her colleague Zahra agrees. “People respect us now,” she says.
Marjana is keen to expand what Banoo can offer and has been promoting the company in the region. Last year, a group of students from Iran visited cultural sites in Afghanistan on a tour organized by Banoo.

Banoo also helps support women’s education. Marjana has managed to secure 37 scholarships from Istanbul University for final-year high school students who passed their exams. She is now trying to get similar scholarships for studies in Moscow.

Marjana hopes that the travel agency will inspire other women to launch their own businesses and do the work traditionally done by men in Afghanistan. Expanding the number of businesses run by women will provide additional job opportunities, for both men and women. This, in turn, might encourage more people to remain in Afghanistan and help rebuild the country.

Marjana is also keen to stress that she wants to create a company where women provide services to both men and women.
“If we only catered to women, it wouldn’t prove that we can do the same work as men. Instead it would be viewed as women helping women,” she concludes.