Celebrating International Women's Day by highlighting the stories of strong women who make an impact everyday.
Updated 08 Mar 2022
Stories of women providers
Women's Day, March 8th
Today, March 8th, marks International Women’s Day. Every year, this day serves to celebrate the diverse achievements of women and as a call for action against gender inequality.
This year’s global theme is about breaking the bias: ending prejudice against women that can tell them they are lesser, that there are certain things – jobs, studies, activities – that they cannot do.
In Iraq, gender bias can often restrict women’s ability to work. The majority of women in Iraq are unemployed, with perceptions of masculinity frequently giving men the role of family ‘provider’ and restricting women’s roles to the home. Yet, every day, women in Iraq are breaking down barriers to earn an income and support their families – women like Naila, Rasha, and Anu.
In Diyala and Salah al Din governorates, DRC has been working with the UN Development Program (UNDP) to support women with economic ambitions, thanks to funding from the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), provided through KFW Development.
This support comes in different forms: cash-for-work activities, like Naila participated in; vocational training, like Rasha received; and business grants, like the one that helped Anu start her business.
Naila, 34, participated in cash-for-work activities at a plant nursery in Al-Khalis, Diyala. She says this was the first opportunity to work she had in her life:
“I did not have any kind of work before – it was the first opportunity I had in my life, and it was an amazing opportunity. I feel enthusiastic to work more and move forward in my life.”
The situation in the area can be challenging; Naila says that it can be hard to find work:
“There is a lack of job opportunities. Most people are unemployed, especially women, and it’s hard to earn an income.”
Together she and her brother – who works as a daily laborer – are responsible for providing for their large family of 14 people.
“When women participated in the project,” Naila says.
“it kind of reduced the concept of women not being allowed to work. [The community] realized that women can participate in certain types of work.”
In fact, while the cash-for-work activity lasted only 40 days, the project had longer-term impacts on Naila’s employment.
“I invested my money in two ways. First, I spent some of the money on my mother’s treatment since she is sick. But I also used some of the money to start my own small project. I bought a sewing machine and started sewing clothes for family and neighbors.”
Naila shares that she learned sewing from her mother when she was a child, and that being a tailor has always been a dream of hers. But her dream doesn’t end there – she now has big plans for the future:
“My plan for the future is to have a workshop which teaches women sewing, so I can expand my business, give opportunities to women, and provide better services to the community.”
Rasha, 23, was displaced with her family during the conflict with the group known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). She now lives in Tikrit, and she and her family are unable to return home as their home was destroyed and because, she says, there is no way to earn an income there.
“When the war started with ISIS, there was bombing in the area. So, like all families did, we had to flee towards safer areas… I wish we could go back to our home city, that we manage to rebuild our house and can be close to our relatives and friends.”
While Rasha’s father gets a small pension from his previous work as a public servant, and her brother works as a daily worker a few days a month, she says this is not enough to support their household of seven and they have struggled to find other work. She was eager to help, but wasn’t sure how to get started:
“My main challenge was that I had no profession. I always wanted to help [my brother and father] to cover the family needs and help in rebuilding our damaged house.”
But, Rasha says, women are limited to certain jobs by gender norms:
“Women in our communities have limited space to find suitable and acceptable jobs, while men have all the space they need and can work in any job with no worries.”
Tailoring, she says, is one of the few jobs that is acceptable to the community, so she was excited to hear that DRC and UNDP were providing a training:
“These kinds of trainings give an opportunity to people to earn an income and find a livelihood… If not for the training I would still be without a skill, and I would never have a chance to open a business or even find a job.”
Following the training, Rasha is now working to open her own business. While that’s her next step, she has a vision for the future:
“My dream and hope is to become a famous tailor, expand my business, and employ women in need, especially divorced women and widows. I also want to make a good income to repair our house and go back to our home city.”
Anu, 28, is divorced, and lives in Tikrit with her mother, brother, sister-in-law and nephew. Anu was displaced from the area with her family when ISIS took control of the town and she became the sole provider for her family when her brother and father were killed in the conflict. Since she returned, she says the situation is slowly getting better, though there are still challenges:
“The situation is becoming better but is not like it was before the conflict. It was safer, with more opportunities for jobs.”
According to Anu, it’s particularly challenging for women to find work, though she was eventually able to find work at a pharmacy:
“As a divorced young woman, it was really challenging due to tribal traditions which restricts women from working outside the house… Working outside the house put me under pressure from the community, and I was criticized by male relatives. [But] The need for an income motivated me to ignore all that and continue working.”
While her and her family’s situation improved when she found her job, Anu hoped to start her own business using her cooking skills:
“I’m good in cooking, but I needed financial support to expand my business. [And] I had no awareness of business management.”
Following training which Anu says helped teach her about marketing, finances and business management, DRC and UNDP supported her with a grant to help start her business preparing meals on demand. Now she says she receives orders from all over the area, and has even hired an employee – a woman who like her has returned to Tikrit after being displaced by the conflict.
“My customers are totally satisfied with my work, and the [number of orders] are increasing day by day,” she says.
Anu loves being her own boss
Anu says that she loves being her own boss and being able to support others after being helped by so many while she was displaced. More then that, though, she says she loves being a woman with a successful business in a “challenging” community:
“Women face challenges working outside the house. Working among men is restricted in our communities. But men are free to work in any job, anywhere.”
Anu is running her business from her home for now, but like Naila and Rasha, she says she has bigger dreams:
“[For now,] my business is in my house, so this will not make issues with the community. I am respecting the traditions of the community. But later [I want to] have a public restaurant in the market next to the men’s businesses. I’ll have challenges, but I’m ready for them… And I hope to do it soon, since my dream is to have my own brand and open branches in every city.”