This article was originally published by Niqash. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

It can be hard for young Iraqi graduates to get a job – in Iraq’s oil-dependent, rentier economy, the government still provides most of the employment and as the population grows, there simply are not enough jobs to go around. It’s one of the main reasons for current anti-government protests.

One young Baghdad woman, Duha Mustafa Fadel, decided to forge her own path after graduation. She now has her own business, making natural soap and skin care products locally. She sells soap made with fennel, lemon, coffee, active coal, strawberry, honey and Moroccan clay, among other varieties, via Facebook and at drugstores and beauty clinics around the country.

She told NIQASH how she got started, where she hopes to go and why there is hope for young Iraqis in the private sector.

NIQASH: How did all this begin for you?

Duha Mustafa Fadel: After I graduated, coming first in my class, I didn’t want to wait around for the government  to offer me a job, as so many other people do. I worked for another company for a while and managed to save some money. Then I travelled to India with my husband – he was studying there – where I was introduced to all kinds of natural oils and where I joined a training on the manufacture of natural products.

Upon my return to Iraq, I got started. I opened a small workshop in my own home and created two Facebook pages to market my products. One of the first people to contact me was a woman from Diwaniyah. She said she was interested in the products but couldn’t afford to pay to get them from Baghdad to Diwaniyah and asked if there was any chance I would open outlets in other parts of Iraq. So that’s what I did.

NIQASH: What was the budget for your project?

Fadel: Around US$3,400. That was what I could afford and I used the money to buy raw materials and workshop supplies.

NIQASH: When you first started work, what were some of your biggest challenges?

Fadel: Basically trying to build trust that it was a locally made product and that it was good. Shop owners that I tried to stock would ask me whether it was really made in Iraq, or if it was imported. When I told them it was made in Iraq, they were often reluctant. However when they did try it, they liked it a lot and would always order more.

NIQASH: Did you do any research on the market or whether Iraqis even wanted something like this before you began?

Fadel: Yes, I tried to do a feasibility study and when it comes to the tastes of customers, I started with what I liked first, and what people close to me liked. Then eventually, as the business grew, I began to get more insights into what customers wanted  and I built my knowledge of the market that way.

NIQASH: What sort of plans do you have for the future growth of your business?

Fadel: I’d really like to open a proper factory in Iraqi Kurdistan to make soap and skin care products and then market them in Arab countries, and also internationally. I lived in Iraqi Kurdistan for two years and I have good contacts there. The conditions for opening a factory are easier up north too.

NIQASH: A lot of other Iraqis would be looking at your success with admiration and they might possibly also want to ask you for a job. Where do you find your employees?

Fadel: At first, a friend was helping me and as the business grew, I began to hire young female graduates. As our activities continue and grow, the number of staff should also increase. I’ve also been very lucky in that my husband and parents support my work unconditionally.

NIQASH: What advice would you give to other Iraqi women who might be thinking about starting their own businesses? 

Fadel: I would advise them not to hesitate. I would advise them to work hard and to unleash their talents and creativity. The beginning is always hard but over time, things get easier and your business will grow, especially if you have done good advance planning and research. Women who become financially independent can be a source of pride for their families and, of course, for themselves too.

The Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development (DFATD) has contributed CAD 20 million ($15 million) in support of UNFPA’s humanitarian response focusing on life-saving assistance aimed at alleviating the suffering of women and girls across Iraq.

The three-year contribution will support UNFPA works in providing emergency obstetric care, and sexual and reproductive health services, in ensuring protection from and responding to gender-based violence and in providing health services, supplies and medication, dignity and reproductive health kits to women and girls affected by the crisis in Iraq.

Dr Oluremi Sogunro, UNFPA Representative to Iraq, thanked DFAT for their trust, saying:

“We are grateful for Canada’s generosity. The needs of women and adolescent girls, especially in displacement camps, remain acute. With the new funding from Canada, UNFPA will expand its interventions aiming at meeting the reproductive health needs of women and girls as well as preventing and responding to sexual and gender-based violence.”

The Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development has been a steady partner to UNFPA humanitarian intervention since 2015. With the current contribution, the total amount of CAD 54.9 million dedicated to UNFPA’s humanitarian initiatives in the field.

(Source: UN)

By John Lee.

A recently established tote bag factory has reportedly created jobs for 25 women in the Kurdistan Region’s Halabja.

According to Rudaw, the initiative aims to promote alternatives to plastic, and is part of the “Green City Halabja” campaign, run by the NWE NGO and partially funded by the German Consulate and WADI organization.

Click here to read the full story.

(Source: Rudaw)

“We had to run quickly: they were coming in at us. We could hear them from far. My whole life crumbled that same moment. I froze but I could hear my sister screaming: “move or they will kill you, or worse take you,” said Minar from Qamishli, in Syria, recollecting the moment she and her family had to flee their home in Syria and seek refuge in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.

To protect girls like Minar and ensure that no woman suffers or dies from gender-based violence in Iraq, the Government of Norway contributed to NOK 17 million (US$ 1,872,452 million) to UNFPA interventions aiming at mitigating, preventing and responding to gender-based violence in humanitarian crisis.

This contribution is part of the Government of Norway’s agreement to provide funding against the appeals in different countries including Iraq for a total amount of (approximately US$ 12,344,685 million) NOK 111.5 Million and (approximately US$ 2,7 million) NOK 25 million to the Humanitarian Thematic Fund. Norway is the top donor to UNFPA core resources in 2019.

In Iraq, UNFPA will utilise the funding to build the capacity of GBV actors, to prevent and respond to GBV through quality services provision targeting vulnerable survivors, including refugees, IDPs, returnees and host communities. Norway’s contribution will also support UNFPA’s efforts to strengthen policies and the legal framework on gender-based violence, as well as to change behaviours towards survivors of GBV.

“Protection against sexual and gender based violence and empowerment of women and girls is a top priority in Norway’s humanitarian efforts. UNFPA is a trusted partner in this work”, says Tone Allers, the Norwegian Ambassador to Jordan and Iraq.

On his end, Dr Oluremi Sogunro, UNFPA Representative to Iraq, thanks the Government of Norway, for their continuous support to the Fund’s GBV programmes. “Norway has been a steady partner to UNFPA throughout the humanitarian crises that hit Iraq. I thank the Government of Norway for leaving no woman and girl behind by renewing its trust in our gender-based violence programmes. Together, we will ensure that women and girls across Iraq are protected and are given the opportunity to thrive.”

(Source: UN)

By Sundus Abbas, SDGs project Manager.

The importance of human development in Iraq stems from the damage Iraqis underwent as a result of decades of despotism, war and different forms of violence and insecurity.

Despite all that, Iraq’s strongest asset and real wealth remains the young population that can face all forms of the current and future challenges.

As one of the countries that has the largest young population groups in the world “50% of the population are under 19 years old”, this fact has put Iraq under pressure on already scarce economic resources, including food, water, urban infrastructure and public services.

It is expected that 5 to7 million additional job opportunities will be needed according to the Iraqi Ministry of Planning. This number may be higher if labor force participation rates increase, especially among women.

Click here to read the full story.

(Source: UNDP)

By John Lee.

Fair competition is needed to economically empower women in the Arab world

Female labor force participation levels in Arab countries are the lowest in the world, despite the rising educational attainment of women reaching working age, according to an article from the Middle East Institute.

Rabah Arezki, Ferid Belhaj argue that young women across the Arab world exceed the education levels of young men, who are worrisomely falling behind.

Remedying the underrepresentation of Arab women in the labor force and reviving the educational motivation of young men are both social and economic imperatives, they say.

More here.

(Source: Middle East Institute)

A three-day workshop has concluded in Baghdad, which considered ways how to ensure the meaningful engagement of Iraqi women in elections.

The workshop on gender-responsive electoral processes, jointly organized by the Independent High Elections Commissions (IHEC) and UNAMI in collaboration with UNDP, was held within the context of UNAMI’s mandate to assist and advise IHEC on preparations for the 2020 local elections in Iraq.

The workshop looked at the UN Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), UN Security Council Resolution 1325 (2000) and subsequent resolutions on promoting women’s full and active participation in political and electoral processes.

UNAMI Director of Electoral Assistance and Principal Electoral Advisor, Aamir Arain, urged the IHEC to strengthen the capacity of its gender team and formulate a gender policy.

Promoting an enabling environment that allows women to fully and actively participate in electoral processes is an important step towards ensuring women exercise their right to vote and contributes to stability and democracy,” Mr. Arain said.

The discussions highlighted challenges facing female candidates, including sexual harassment, poor media coverage, insufficient campaign funds, limited support from political parties, and social discrimination due to negative patriarchal attitudes.

It underlined the importance of the quota system to guarantee women’s representation, and the need for specific security measures and awareness to enable women to vote safely and freely, and a code of conduct to promote integrity in the overall electoral process.

Two former MPs who are members of the Women Advisory Group (WAG) shared their experiences as candidates in previous national legislative elections. Another WAG member described her previous work as a national elections observer.

The group was launched early 2019 to advocate for better representation of women in reconciliation and political processes amongst other concerns.

(Source: UN)

UNAMI Urges Inclusion of Women in Politics and Decision-Making

Deputy Special Representative of the UN Secretary General, Alice Walpole (pictured), has addressed the launch of a Regional Forum aimed at advancing women’s rights in Iraq and across the Middle Eastern region, with participants from Iraq, Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Palestine, Tunisia and Yemen.

The forum is being held under the auspices of the President of the Republic of Iraq, with support from the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI), UN Women, the Women’s International League for Peace and the Dutch Embassy.

DSRSG Walpole called on women representatives attending the Forum to use this unique gathering to learn from one another in facing the challenges and difficulties that continue to obstruct the advancement of women in the region.

She recalled that implementation of Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security, remains a key priority for the (female) leadership of UNAMI and urged the Iraqi authorities to pursue a national action plan to enable the meaningful representation of women in political and decision-making processes in Iraq.

“Iraq, at this critical moment of its post-conflict development, simply cannot afford to ignore the energy and expertise of half its population” DSRSG Walpole underlined.

The Baghdad Regional Forum will include two days of interactive workshops on 26-27 August, discussing the role and achievements of regional mechanisms in implementing the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, reducing violence against women and empowering women in politics.

(Source: UNAM()

By Amnesty International.

Nobody wants us: The plight of displaced female-headed families in Iraq

Amnesty International and other organizations have continuously documented the collective punishment of displaced families, especially female-headed families.

Many are perceived as supporters of the Islamic State armed group (IS) due to factors outside their control – such as being related, however distantly, to men who were somehow involved with IS – and are ostracized by the rest of society.

Such families have reported being forcibly displaced, evicted, arrested, had their homes demolished or looted or faced threats, sexual abuse and harassment, and discrimination after returning to their places of origin.

More here.

(Source: Amnesty International)

UN Women, Office of the President of the Republic of Iraq sign MoU to promote gender equality, empowerment of women

UN Women in Iraq and the Office of the President of the Republic of Iraq signed a Memorandum of Understanding on 15 April 2019 providing a framework of cooperation in areas of gender equality and women’s empowerment.

The MoU, signed by UN Women Representative Dina Zorba and the Iraqi President’s Adviser for Gender and Civil Society, Ms. Khanim Latif, provides for cooperation in technical fields, research and advocacy.

UN Women and the Office of the President will cooperate in promoting enabling frameworks for the realisation of women’s rights as well as government-wide mainstreaming of gender equality and women’s empowerment. The MoU works also to promote sustainable institutional capacities to ensure Iraq’s alignment with its international human rights commitments.

In particular, the MoU seeks to ensure a gender-based response to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, with a focus on building the capacity of women representatives to perform their role in the political and decision-making spheres. Furthermore, it provides for harmonising policy approaches in the areas of national reconciliation, peace building, conflict prevention and post-conflict reconstruction.

The MoU also aims to strengthen the database for women’s issues in order to inform and guide evidence-based advocacy. The effort includes enhancing the process of regularly producing gender statistics and cooperation in all stages of research, in addition to improving access to research findings and data by users, including women.

UN Women and the President’s Office will also collaborate in strengthening the momentum for the advancement of women’s agenda in Iraq through joint advocacy and outreach efforts. The two sides will work on informing and influencing the national discourse on the elimination of legislative, social and economic barriers for women’s realisation and recognition of their rights, including in the areas of women’s economic empowerment, participation in the decision-making process, ending gender-based violence and promoting women’s active participation in the political sphere.

In addition, the two sides will advocate for the establishment of a mechanism for women that is capable of coordinating the issues of women with the aim of ensuring the political, social, cultural and economic empowerment of women towards achieving gender equality. The signing ceremony was attended by Deputy Special Representative of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) Marta Ruedas and advisers to the Iraqi President.

(Source: UN)