Women’s economic empowerment in Iraq

Shatha with her family, Iraq, 2012 Photo by: UNDP Iraq

A number of remarkable Iraqi women entrepreneurs who managed to break social barriers and venture with successful small businesses came together to share the challenges they faced and how they overcame to become an integral part of the Iraqi economy.


The past three decades in Iraq have been characterized by wars, conflicts, violence, sanctions and civil strife. Iraqi women have had to bear a heavy burden. Women head one in ten of all Iraqi households and 90% of these women are widows. Unemployment among Iraqi women remains one of the highest in the Arab region. Only one in every ten women is employed or actively seeking work. 


“I was in despair when my husband was killed due to a bomb during the war. I had no income and was forced out of my husband’s home,” recounted Shatha, a widowed mother of five from Baghdad who participated at the conference. “Thanks to women’s organization in my area, I took a course in managing small businesses. I studied budgeting, accounting and inventory management. I now manage a small grocery shop and thanks to that my children can continue to go to school.”


Shatha’s story was taken from a first of its kind conference on women’s economic conference held in the Iraqi capital Baghdad in October 2012. The conference was organized in cooperation between the United Nations Development Programme and the Deputy Prime Minister’s Office.


Her story, as well as 11 other stories are included in the “Women’s Economic Empowerment in Iraq: Integrating Women in the Iraqi Economy” Report that UNDP released at the conference. Among others, the report tells the stories of Noor, a researcher from Babel; Reem from Basrah who learned to read and write at a late age; Areej an academic from Diyala who is now qualified in business management; and Shahla from Erbil who is making a living through sewing and repairing clothes.


According to the report, female heads of households and vulnerable Iraqi women: the poor, the unemployed, the widows, the internally displaced and the physically challenged lack access to financial resources and social benefits like social security, pensions and food distributed through the Iraqi government’s Public Distribution System.


 “The Government of Iraq has undertaken a number of initiatives to address gender equality issues, recognizing the potential that Iraqi women have and the role they can play to improve the country’s economy” stated Deputy Prime Minister Rowsch Shaways at the conference. “However, much more needs be done to accelerate these efforts to have a tangible impact, so that women will have more and better jobs, supported by the right policies and practices,” he admitted.

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