During the years of Taliban rule in Afghanistan, Malalay Jaward clung to a dangerous secret. Every day she covered herself in a full burqa and traveled to a forbidden job with the United Nations Human Settlements Programme, where she provided mental support for women in rural areas. Many women she encountered were locked in their homes without utilities and other essentials.
The Taliban would not tolerate such a mission, so Jaward told few people about her affiliation with the international organization. Instead of money, she was paid in wheat.
When she ventured outside, she kept a low profile and traveled as much as possible with her husband or other trusted men. If a Taliban agent spotted her on the streets alone, the penalty could be abduction, rape and even death.
One of the biggest risks Jaward took for the United Nations was traveling to Kandahar, a stronghold of the Taliban regime. She knew she couldn’t go alone, so her husband decided to escort her. This meant leaving their 13-year-old daughter behind to care for four younger children.
When the couple left the house, the family was crying because they thought for sure their mother would be captured and killed.
Jaward survived, but she ran into other trouble.
The Taliban eventually found out about her passion to help other women. Government agents surrounded her office and waited to arrest her, but she managed to escape by shouting at the men for falsely accusing her.
After the incident, she and her family knew they had to flee immediately. Her boss suggested she escape to Pakistan, but Jaward didn’t want to leave the country.
Instead the family relocated to Chelston, Afghanistan. The Taliban continued looking for Jaward until the United Nations managed to negotiate with the agents to stop.
Once settled in Chelston, Jaward continued to help women, but in a different way. She opened her own business, Helala Silk Production, which uses local materials to produce high-quality Afghan silk for sale at local markets.
Jaward wanted to expand her business capabilities, so in 2009 she applied and was accepted to 10,000 Women, a global initiative sponsored by Goldman Sachs that will provide 10,000 underserved women with business and management education.
Goldman Sachs works in Afghanistan with Thunderbird School of Global Management and the American University of Afghanistan, two schools that created an eight-week entrepreneurship program to help women like Jaward develop the skills and networks necessary to start and grow viable businesses.
Jaward learned how to develop a business plan and expanded her operation after completing the program. She said the 10,000 Women program taught her the leadership, business management, networking, finance and marketing skills needed to succeed.
She is now supplying Afghan handicraft companies with meters of silk to produce their finished products.
She has 13 employees and has received $15,000 in seed capital for expansion. She also works to inspire other businesswomen to launch their own ventures.