She also plowed her savings into the business, but more difficulties lay in wait.
A lack of qualified technicians meant Atmar had to hire specialists from China and Pakistan to help run the complex machines that wash, pulp, dry and transform cardboard and paper waste into loo roll.
“Electricity is always a nightmare,” she says, referring to hours-long blackouts that prevented the factory from functioning at full capacity, even before the lockdown.
And then there were the “scary threats” she received, allegedly from male competitors.
“It’s not easy to do this. It needs courage,” she said.
When she first visited the recycling factory — located in a conservative, run-down Kabul neighborhood — five years ago, she didn’t see a single woman on the streets.
Today her company is 30 percent female with women working on the factory floor, in marketing, and as paid interns.
“I want to hire more women… because I can understand their problems, the difficulties they suffer”, she said.
Mother to a four-year-old boy, Atmar says Afghan women are forced to make difficult trade-offs in pursuit of their dreams.
“The social mentality here will not allow any woman to have it all because her ambition is considered to be at odds with ideas of family life,” she says.
Born into a upper middle-class family — her mother was a teacher — Atmar had little doubt that she would pursue a career, even as her life was upended by a brutal civil war.
The family fled to Pakistan and only returned to Kabul after the fall of the Taliban in 2001.