Women of Resilience from Iraq

Published: Mar 15, 2023 Reading time: 6 minutes
For the International women's day, beneficiaries of MPCA project speaking how the project has helped to empower them as women
© Photo: People in Need

Stories of women from Iraq who were able to turn their lives around and run their own businesses.

Life in Iraq today is a far cry from what it was before the ISIL attacks; the country is now both devastated and divided. Home to countless victims of war, Iraq has been through much turmoil in the past twenty years. It has been plagued by war and political instability for decades, resulting in significant hardship for the population, particularly for women who have faced adversity that constrains them in traditional roles, limiting their access to employment and education.

According to the EU Delegation, 62% of women in Iraq are unemployed. However, despite the limited opportunities and obstacles faced, many Iraqi women have proven they can be successful and contributing members of society.

In this article, we will explore the stories of some of these remarkable women who had been left to fend for themselves and their children and how they have overcome obstacles and positively impacted their communities.

"Even though we live in a small village, our ambition is not dead."- Elaf*, 39, an Iraqi woman who lives in Hatra village in northern Iraq.

In the heart of Hatra village lives Elaf, a mother of 5 children who lost her husband and has been left alone to raise five children and make ends meet. "As a widow, I am playing the role of both parents to my children. I am responsible for raising them and supporting them both emotionally and financially," she explains.

Hatra is a village located in eastern Nineva Governorate in northern Iraq. Due to difficult living conditions and a shortage of resources, many families are forced to rely on agriculture and livestock breeding. Elaf* was sitting on a pile of rags in the corner of the hut; the house's interior was dimly lit, with only a few slivers of sunlight filtering through the door. She looked up with a faint smile and said, "My dream was to become a teacher. My life would be different if I could pursue my education," she says, "Even though we live in a small village, we are full of ambitions."

In some places in Iraq, girls are still denied access to education due to various social, economic and cultural factors. Elaf is determined to provide her daughters with the education she didn't receive. In her area, education for girls is not a priority. As a result, Elaf's 18-year-old daughter had to drop out of school after finishing the 5th grade. She then was married off to her cousin at the age of 14. Despite the challenges, Elaf did not give up on her goal and is determined to ensure her younger children stay in school. "I want my daughters to be educated and independent," she says, "I want them to have a better life than I did."

Through our Financial Literacy Training and Cash Assistance, Elaf was able to adopt a sustainable mindset and provide her family with a livelihood income. "This grant saved us; it supported us financially and gave us a sustainable path. Because of the training, I bought some chicken that provides us with eggs," she says. "At least now, we know that if we weren't able to sell the eggs, we could eat them."

Elaf could also buy household necessities and clothes for her children from the grant. "My son returned from school happy that the teacher complimented his new outfit," she adds. "My 10-year-old daughter asked for a cake and was extremely happy when I bought it."

Elaf has always been the rock for her children; they had grown up watching their mother work tirelessly to provide for them. Her 18-year-old daughter sees her mother as her role model and aspires to emulate her. "My daughter has always dreamt of becoming a lawyer to defend women's rights," says Elaf. "I want my children to study so they can escape this reality, I want them to develop and see the world and raise their future children in better conditions," she concludes.

Overcoming adversity

Life in Hawija, Kirkuk Governorate of Iraq, has been particularly challenging in recent years due to the city's history of conflict and instability. Many women have been affected by violence and displacement. Although the security situation has somewhat improved, the challenging days have ravaged the Iraqi women's lives and taken away their loved ones. But despite all this, many women in Iraq stood strong and rebuilt their lives with strength and determination.

Israa is an Iraqi woman who lives in a small house with four other families. Due to the dire financial situation and lack of employment, she was unable to take care of her mother and her two children, who suffer from disabilities. After receiving Multi-Purpose Cash Assistance and Financial Literacy Training, she could invest the money and establish a business project that provides financial income to cover her family's basic needs.

"With the money, I bought a sewing machine and some fabrics. My project then grew gradually after the women in my village began shopping and sewing their clothes at my workshop," she says.

Shaimaa had a small stall of vegetables that she turned into a small shop after receiving cash assistance and Financial Literacy Training. "This shop is the main income source for my family and me. Before that, we were living in critical conditions," she says. "I was able to convert from a small vegetable stall seller to a shop owner of food and non-food items."

Shaimaa invests the income in paying debts, buying greater quantities and types of goods, and covering her family's basic needs. "I am thrilled that I got this opportunity. I was waiting for it for a long time," she explains. "This assistance mitigated the difficulties in covering my family's daily needs. I hope to enlarge my shop more and more."

From shop owners to tailors and livestock breeders. Iraqi women are making a significant contribution to their society and showing the world what it means to be resilient. Women taking part in economic life is one of the main pillars of sustainable growth and development and is also key in achieving a durable and balanced structure of growth and development.

With the support of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), and the Iraq Humanitarian Fund (IHF), People in Need, in consortium with SSDF and WEO, has provided around 820 families with Multi-Purpose Cash Assistance and Financial Literacy Training that aims at helping vulnerable households in several areas in Iraq to fulfil their basic needs.

*Names have been changed for protection purposes

Autor: Zaynab Mayladan, PIN's Regional Communications and Advocacy Manager for the Middle East

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