Women’s Economic Empowerment and Enterprise

Um Yaser and her seamstresses in Nina Magazine

Um Yaser and her seamstresses in Nina Magazine

The Heart of NinaJournalist Mustafa Saadoun focuses on Absence of legislation: key obstacle to women’s economic empowerment, with calls for activating small enterprise loans, in this, his first Dossier for Nina.

Um Yaser, a 48-year old seamstress, stands at Baghdad Governorate’s entrance, waiting to be allowed access into the building to apply for a small enterprise loan provided by the Governorate.

She explains that she wants to start up a small enterprise with three sewing machines, three seamstresses and a rented house. “I want to make a living by using my sewing expertise and thereby securing a daily income. I also want to teach some girls this profession.”

But Um Yaser is finding it difficult to get such a loan, as thousands of others are applying too. Also, men and women’s applications are not separated.

Recent statistics released by women’s organizations in Iraq indicate that women constitute more than 60% of citizens who are economically inactive. The Parliamentary Committee for Women judges that this poses a national risk. Committee lead, Intisar Al-Juboori, believes that creating reforms in legislation around women’s rights would have a significant positive impact. She also calls for finding a way of dealing with the male predominance in the micro-loan decision-making process.

The figures are pretty damning. Data collected shows that 2006 saw a small rise to 20% in female participation, but this rate declined in 2007. According to the World Bank’s 2012 Investment Climate Report, participation rates of women in the labour market are just 13%.

Mrs. Al-Juboori explains why this is the case, in her view:

“Administrative and financial corruption is basically detrimental to women advancing in economic work and becoming able to assume posts and preside over enterprises.” She adds that her Committee had received a vast number of complaints where women-owned businesses had been bypassed in a variety of tenders, purely because of gender.

In terms of creating supporting legislation, she believes that the two key laws that need to be looked at are the investment and labour laws. However, she recognizes that barriers are also very much cultural. For example, women often purposely shrink from larger projects, because they don’t want to be noticed, or are subject to harassment. This naturally gives men the stronger role. Al-Juboori believes that this ‘self-effacement’ is an important stumbling block for women’s economic empowerment, and creates a vicious circle.

There is a long way to go, but there are also many strong voices out there pushing for change – simply because what is good for women’s economic empowerment is good for Iraq.

Women own just 7% of firms in Iraq

The 2012 World Bank report shows that women’s participation in the private sector is relatively low. In Iraq, the only industries where the overall workforce percentage for female participation hits over 30% are education and agricultural activities ( i.e. rural women). Otherwise, percentage figures are tiny. Women are also unlikely to be senior managers. Just 1.1% in Iraq (much lower than other countries in the region, eg. 29.1% Lebanon).

Women own just 7% of firms in Iraq – this is roughly one quarter of other comparative countries in the region. As female ownership of firms enhances firm productivity, barriers to female participation impede enterprise development, productivity and progress.

Top recommendations for progress:

The Economist

Wafa Al-Chadarchi believes a joint effort is needed, working across all political parties , communities, the private sector and NGOs to enhance woman’s economic rights.

Al-Chadarchi also calls for more start-up loans for women but, importantly, ones that are able to provide other support services, such as training

The Activist

Luma Al-Sabbagh believes more women start-ups are needed, along with support to help them grow

The Journalist

Mayada Dawood, using education for all to combat violence and religious fanaticism. A good education also means that women are not dependent on a husband’s income. Building understanding among all parties is crucially important, as are laws to eliminate school drop-outs and marriages at anearly age.

The image of the women’s sewing is exclusive to Nina and has not been published previously

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