When the Iraqi, Alaa Adel, launched her own fashion design house months ago, the challenges were not easy. In addition to the obstacles facing young people in general in the labor market in a country that frequently witnesses economic and political turmoil, women in particular face additional difficulties.
Many Iraqi women find opening their own businesses an arduous adventure, for reasons that vary, according to a report by the International Organization for Migration published last October, between “gender customs and traditions… and those that confine women to their domestic and educational roles,” leading to “poor access to a headspace.” money” and “the limited knowledge women often have about doing business.”
Adel, 33, has faced many obstacles since she graduated from the University of Baghdad in textile and fashion design.
And between her desire to work in her specialty as a fashion designer and the lack of opportunities in this field, Adel, who also teaches at the College of Arts at the University of Baghdad, decided that the only way to do so was to open her own project.
She says, “I started submitting requests to organizations or donors that support culture and art, but my project was always rejected because I had no experience in project development… I did not know what steps I should follow.”
In addition, the private sector is generally weak in Iraq, and many tend to work in the public sector, which further complicates the task of launching private businesses for young people.
According to the International Labor Organization, 37.9 percent of Iraq’s active population works in the public sector, one of the highest rates in the world.
When the Al-Mahatta Foundation for Entrepreneurship in Baghdad launched the “Ra’idat” program, funded by the French Embassy, with the aim of training women on how to establish their own projects, Adel found an opportunity to gain the experience she lacked and joined the project.
“These stages that I went through gave me the confidence to start my project,” she told AFP from her small workshop located in the commercial district of Karrada in the capital, Baghdad, surrounded by balls of thread, sewing machines and scattered fabrics.
And the dream turned into reality in the summer of 2022, after she borrowed a subsidized amount from a bank, so she launched the “Iraq Couture” fashion house, which aspires to become a joint workspace for other Iraqi fashion designers.
As a mother of two children, perhaps the biggest obstacle that Adel feared when launching her work was “the absence of governmental educational institutions in which a mother can place her children and go to work and be reassured.”
Adel succeeded in challenging social considerations, material difficulties and lack of experience, at a time when millions of Iraqi women do not dare to take such a step, and their presence in the labor market in general is still weak.
According to a survey of the International Labor Organization, the results of which were published in July 2022, “there are about 13 million women of working age” in Iraq, “and yet there are only about two million working.”
The survey notes that “the female labor force participation rate was particularly low, at 10.6 percent, compared to 68 percent for males.”
Shamous Ghanem, the owner of a healthy food store and the launch of the “Iraqi Women in Business” initiative, believes that there is “discrimination against women” in the field of work, as men “dominate in many sectors, while women are on the margins and are not highlighted.”
Likewise, there is a “limited space” for women in which they can “grow and develop,” adds Shamous, 34.
Ghanem, the mother of one son, is trying to fill this gap in women’s experience and provides them with vocational guidance services, especially via the Internet, and for free.
She says that most of those who communicate with her are “mothers who have been away from the labor market for a long time, and do not know how to return. They ask themselves if society will accept them, after a long period of their absence from work.”
Ghanem established her own business, in October of 2021, and going to the market and searching for suppliers was the biggest challenge facing her.
She recounts, “When I went to look for suppliers for the first time, I saw that the issue was difficult. There were a large number of men around me, and I am a woman walking in the street… It was worrying for me.”
She added, “I was afraid of being harassed or harassed… This is one of the problems that drives single women to hesitate to work, even the parents do not allow her to take this step out of fear for her.”
In addition to the difficulty of entering the markets to supply raw materials without a man, Ghanem also found that investors, for example, are reluctant to enter into business with women, unless there is a man in the picture.
Nevertheless, Ghanem aspires to grow her health food store, Holifec, which she now runs from home.
She says, “My dream after five years is to have my own healthy restaurant, and for it to be a place that supports women who want to work in this sector.”