An Afghan worker sorts harvested saffron flowers in a field on the outskirts of Herat.
Gulf Today Report
An Afghan business leader who employs hundreds of women on her saffron fields has vowed to speak up for the rights of her workers, and "not remain silent" under Taliban rule.
The hardliners have increasingly excluded women from public life since sweeping to power in mid-August, pushing many female entrepreneurs to flee the country or go into hiding.
"We will raise our voice so that it reaches their ears," said Shafiqeh Attai, who started her saffron company in the western city of Herat in 2007.
"No matter what happens we won't just sit at home, because we have worked very hard."
We will not remain silent
Attai's business, the Pashton Zarghon Saffron Women's Company, produces, processes, packages and exports the world's most expensive spice with an almost exclusively female workforce.
More than 1,000 women pick the brightly coloured crocuses across the company's 25 hectares (60 acres) of land in the Pashton Zarghon district of Herat Province, which borders Iran.
Another 55 hectares are independently owned and operate under the collective that Attai set up for women saffron pickers, who are represented by union leaders.
Employing women allows them to be breadwinners for their families, Attai said, enabling them to send their children to school, and to buy them clothing and other essentials.
"I worked hard to establish my business," the 40-year-old said. "We don't want to sit quietly and be ignored. Even if they ignore us, we will not remain silent."
Herat Province produces the vast majority of Afghanistan's saffron.
At more than $5,000 per kilogram (2.2 pounds), saffron is the world's most expensive spice, and Attai's company produces between 200 and 500 kilos each year.
The pistil of the flower has for centuries been used around the world in cooking, perfumes, medicines, tea and even as an aphrodisiac -- and because of its high price has been dubbed "red gold" by those who rely on its cultivation.
Cannot be ignored
Younes Qazizadeh, head of the city's chamber of commerce, told AFP that he hoped the Taliban would make an official announcement to indicate that "women could come back and do business under this government as well".
For now, the fate of businesses like Attai's hangs on a thread.
"It is our hope to start women's businesses again in our country," Qazizadeh added.
Attai said that for now, she is staying in her homeland because she has "some hope" that her business can survive.
Ahead of the US pullout, a mammoth airlift saw 124,000 people evacuated from Kabul airport.
"I could have left as well. But I didn't leave because all the hard work and effort that we put in should not be ignored," Attai said.
"I don't think they will block our work," she added, referring to the Taliban.
"We are a company which is completely run by women and employs women — not a single man is brave enough to stop that. A woman who has shovelled her fields day and night cannot be ignored."
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