Small businesses, big dreams: Iraq’s women entrepreneurs

Small businesses, big dreams: Iraq’s women entrepreneurs
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Alaa Adel, an Iraqi fashion designer, works at her "Iraqcouture" studio in the capital Baghdad, on January 11, 2023. Adel, 33, counts herself among a limited number of female entrepreneurs in a country where most women don't work outside the home. (AFP)
Small businesses, big dreams: Iraq’s women entrepreneurs
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Shumoos Ghanem, entrepreneur and founder of the "Iraqi Women in Business" initiative, addresses participants during a workshop in Iraq's capital Baghdad. For Shumoos Ghanem, men "dominate numerous sectors whereas women are relegated to the margins". The 34-year-old is owner of a dietary food business and founder of the Iraqi Women in Business initiative, which provides professional guidance to women online. She is also mother to a 14-month-old son. (AFP)
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Updated 25 January 2023

Small businesses, big dreams: Iraq’s women entrepreneurs

Small businesses, big dreams: Iraq’s women entrepreneurs
  • Iraq has 13 million employment-aged women “yet only around one million are working,”

Baghdad: The sewing machines and fabric that surround Alaa Adel at her “Iraqcouture” studio in Baghdad are testament to her success in deeply patriarchal Iraq.
Adel, 33, counts herself among a limited number of female entrepreneurs in a country where most women don’t work outside the home.
“We have a social tradition that prevents many women from working,” Adel said at her studio in Baghdad’s Karrada commercial district.
Even for those who do, “it is not always that easy,” she added.
The International Organization for Migration said in an October report that “prevailing customs and traditions... limit women’s activities to their domestic and nurturing role.”
Adel said such prejudices, as well as practical difficulties, posed a challenge to fulfilling her dream.
A graduate of the University of Baghdad who specialized in fashion and design, Adel wanted to create her own fashion house.
“I went to see the patrons of organizations that support art and culture. But my idea was systematically rejected because I had no experience in the conception of projects,” she said.
Thanks to an Iraqi foundation, The Station, and its “Raidat” (Female Entrepreneurs) program financed by the French embassy in Baghdad, Adel got training which, she said, gave her the confidence to start her own business.
Iraq’s private sector is still embryonic, making more tedious and lengthy the steps to set up a company.
The country, which is trying to move past four decades of war and unrest, is also plagued by endemic corruption, widespread unemployment and a poverty rate of around 30 percent.
Almost 38 percent of people with jobs work in Iraq’s public sector — one of the highest rates in the world, according to the International Labour Organization (ILO).
Adel eventually secured a loan from a private bank, and created her “Alaa Adel” brand last summer.
At the beginning, she had to deal with sexism from some fabric suppliers who were reluctant to do business with a woman, she said.
Then there was a lack of public childcare facilities, in a country where tradition says children should be taken care of at home — by the mother — until they go to school.
Adel got help from family members who look after her two boys, aged nine and four, while she is at work.
Iraq has 13 million employment-aged women “yet only around one million are working,” said ILO country coordinator Maha Kattaa, presenting a report in July last year.
The female labor force participation rate “was particularly low” at 10.6 percent, the ILO report said, compared with 68 percent for men.
In contrast, neighboring Saudi Arabia had a female workforce participation rate of 35.6 percent in the second quarter of 2022.
Most of Iraq’s working women are teachers or nurses. A rare few are members of the police or armed forces.
For Shumoos Ghanem, men “dominate numerous sectors whereas women are relegated to the margins.”
The 34-year-old is the owner of a dietary food business and founder of the Iraqi Women in Business initiative, which provides professional guidance to women online. She is also a mother to a 14-month-old son.
Ghanem says most of those she advises are mothers who have been out of the workforce and “wonder if society will accept them” again as working women.
Over the past five or six years, Iraqi women have had increased opportunities, she said, but the space for them “to develop is very limited still.”
“Some regions are more traditional than others,” she added, which further restricts women’s chances to have “careers or to open projects.”
Surrounded by men, Ghanem said she herself experienced sexism and was worried about harassment.
“When I went to see suppliers for the first time, I really saw how complicated it was,” she recalled.
Now she works from home, but she too has a dream — to have her own health-conscious restaurant where she can help bolster the ranks of female Iraqi businesswomen.
“I want to make it a place to support women who want to work in this sector,” she said.


Iraq’s new leaders must keep fighting corruption: UN envoy 

Iraq’s new leaders must keep fighting corruption: UN envoy 
Updated 03 February 2023

Iraq’s new leaders must keep fighting corruption: UN envoy 

Iraq’s new leaders must keep fighting corruption: UN envoy 

UNITED NATIONS: The UN special envoy for Iraq urged the country’s new government Thursday to keep fighting corruption and move quickly on much-needed economic, fiscal and financial reforms.
Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert told the UN Security Council many other areas also need immediate government attention, among them ensuring human rights, resolving issues with the Kurdistan Regional Government, improving public services, addressing environmental challenges, and continuing to return Iraqis from camps and prisons in northeast Syria.
“The hope is that the confirmation of Iraq’s new government will provide an opportunity to structurally address the many pressing issues facing the country and its people,” she said. “The urgency is for Iraq’s political class to seize the brief window of opportunity it is awarded, and to finally lift the country out of recurring cycles of instability and fragility.”
A more than year-long political stalemate punctuated by outbreaks of street violence ended in late October with the confirmation by Iraq’s Council of Representatives of a new government and Cabinet led by Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al-Sudani.
Hennis-Plasschaert said that during its first three months, Al-Sudani’s government has shown a commitment to tackle endemic corruption, poor public services and high unemployment.
Turning to the fight against corruption, she pointed to a number of important steps taken by the government, including trying to recover stolen funds and investigating allegations of graft.
“That said, I can only encourage the Iraqi government to persevere, as those who stand to lose will undoubtedly seek to hinder these efforts,” she said. “But if Iraq is to build a system that serves the need of society instead of serving a closed community of collusion, then ensuring accountability across the spectrum is absolutely essential.”
The UN special representative said “systemic change” is vital to address corruption and improve services that directly affect people’s lives.
As for economic, fiscal and financial reforms, Hennis-Plasschaert expressed concern at the increase in the exchange rate on the parallel market “adding to the pressure on everyday Iraqi women and men.”
“On the short term, it is obviously essential that the federal budget is passed expeditiously,” she said. “A further delay will only result in worsening the situation due to the well-known spending constraints.”
Despite high unemployment, Hennis-Plasschaert cautioned against any “further bloating” of Iraq’s “already extremely inflated public sector.”
She cautioned the government against relying totally on the country’s oil, which is vulnerable to price shocks, and urged it to focus on diversifying the economy, including by developing an employment-generating private sector.
Hennis-Plasschaert said the government also needs to swiftly implement the Sinjar Agreement brokered by the UN in October 2020 between Baghdad and the Kurdish-run regional government to jointly manage the Sinjar region. It is home to Iraq’s Yazidi religious minority, and the agreement aims to restore the state’s hold over the patchwork of militia groups and competing authorities in the area after the defeat of Islamic State extremists.
When IS fighters swept into northern Iraq in 2014 the militants massacred thousands of Yazidi men and enslaved an estimated 7,000 women, including Nadia Murad, who won the Nobel Peace Prize for her campaign to end sexual violence as a weapon of war. She returned to her home village in Sinjar this week with actress and activist Angelina Jolie to meet survivors of IS brutality and see progress in redeveloping the region.
US deputy ambassador Richard Mill called on the government to improve its respect for human rights and commit to implementing the Sinjar Agreement in close consultation with the Yazidi community.
He said the United States supports the prime minister’s efforts to root out corruption and improve public services, particularly providing electricity, and encourages development of the private sector and job growth, “with a focus on increasing women’s participation in the workforce.”
Mills added that the Biden administration is eager to work with the government on addressing the negative impacts of climate, including through the use of renewable energy and reducing gas flaring.


UN experts slam slow progress in Lebanese activist murder probe

UN experts slam slow progress in Lebanese activist murder probe
Updated 02 February 2023

UN experts slam slow progress in Lebanese activist murder probe

UN experts slam slow progress in Lebanese activist murder probe
  • Slim was found dead in southern Lebanon — a stronghold of the Iran-backed Hezbollah movement of which he was heavily critical.

GENEVA:UN rights experts voiced deep concern Thursday at the slow pace of an investigation into the killing of Lebanese intellectual Lokman Slim two years ago, demanding that Beirut ensure accountability.
“It is incumbent on the Lebanese authorities to fully investigate and bring to justice the perpetrators of this heinous crime,” the four independent experts said.
“Failing to carry out a prompt and effective investigation may in itself constitute a violation of the right to life.”
A secular activist from a Shiite family, 58-year-old Slim was found dead in his car on February 4, 2021, a day after his family reported him missing.
His bullet-riddled body was found in southern Lebanon — a stronghold of the Iran-backed Hezbollah movement of which he was heavily critical.
In their statement, the UN special rapporteurs on extrajudicial executions, the independence of judges and lawyers, the right to freedom of opinion and expression and the situation of human rights defenders voiced outrage that no one responsible for his assassination had been identified.
“Shedding light on the circumstances surrounding the death of Mr. Lokman Slim and bringing those responsible to justice is also part of the State’s obligation to protect freedom of opinion and expression,” said the experts, who are appointed by the UN Human Rights Council but who do not speak on behalf of the world body.
“A culture of impunity not only emboldens the killers of Mr. Slim, it will also have a chilling effect on civil society as it sends a chilling message to other activists to self-censor,” they said.
The experts stressed that investigations into unlawful killings must be “independent, impartial, prompt, thorough, effective, credible and transparent.”
“Thus far, national authorities have shown no indication that the ongoing investigations are in line with relevant international standards,” they warned, demanding that the authorities speed up the probe and “ensure that those responsible are held accountable without delay.”
“Mr. Slim’s family must have access to justice, truth and adequate reparation expeditiously.”


Biden underlines support for Jordan in meeting with king

Biden underlines support for Jordan in meeting with king
Updated 02 February 2023

Biden underlines support for Jordan in meeting with king

Biden underlines support for Jordan in meeting with king
  • Biden recognized Jordan's "crucial role as the custodian of Muslim holy places in Jerusalem”

WASHINGTON: President Joe Biden on Thursday underlined his support for the legal “status quo” of Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque compound in a meeting at the White House with Jordanian King Abdullah II.
Biden, the king and Crown Prince Hussein had a private lunch in which the US president “reaffirmed the close, enduring nature of the friendship between the United States and Jordan,” the White House said.
Referring to growing tensions around the Al-Aqsa mosque — located on a site venerated both by Muslims and Jews inside Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem — Biden reaffirmed “the critical need to preserve the historic status quo.”
Biden also recognized Jordan’s “crucial role as the custodian of Muslim holy places in Jerusalem,” the White House said in a statement.
On the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Biden reiterated the US position of “strong support for a two-state solution,” also thanking King Abdullah “for his close partnership and the role he and Jordan play as a force for stability in the Middle East.”
Al-Aqsa mosque is the third-holiest place in Islam and the most sacred site to Jews, who refer to the compound as the Temple Mount.
Under a longstanding status quo, non-Muslims can visit the site at specific times but are not allowed to pray there.
In recent years, a growing number of Jews, most of them Israeli nationalists, have covertly prayed at the compound, angering Palestinians. In January, the national security minister in Israel’s new far-right government made his own visit to the site, sparking a torrent of international condemnation.


Some UN Afghan aid delivered by men only, donors voice alarm

Some UN Afghan aid delivered by men only, donors voice alarm
Updated 02 February 2023

Some UN Afghan aid delivered by men only, donors voice alarm

Some UN Afghan aid delivered by men only, donors voice alarm
  • Issue illustrates a delicate balancing act between women’s rights and finding ways to continue working in Afghanistan

UNITED NATIONS: Under pressure from Afghanistan’s Taliban administration, the United Nations is delivering some food aid using men only, prompting warnings from donors and humanitarian groups that it could be seen as giving in to an internationally condemned ban on most female aid workers.
UN aid chief Martin Griffiths acknowledged to reporters this week that women are not involved in some food aid activities, which the World Food Programme described as “operational adjustments” to allow it to continue its work, and he said the situation was inadequate.
“There are still activities that are ongoing where men-only (are), for example, delivering food, but it can’t work,” Griffiths said on Monday after he visited Afghanistan last week.
The issue illustrates a delicate balancing act facing the world body since the ban was imposed on Dec. 24: how to stand firm on women’s rights while finding ways to continue working in Afghanistan, where some 28 million people — two thirds of the population — need help, with six million on the brink of famine.
The Taliban, which seized power in August 2021 as US-led forces withdrew from Afghanistan after 20 years of war, says it respects women’s rights in accordance with its interpretation of Islamic law. It has since excluded women from parks, high school and university, and said women should not leave the home without a male relative and must cover their faces.
While women are still allowed to work for the United Nations, its operations are suffering because UN officials said 70 percent of the humanitarian response is implemented by local and international aid groups that are covered by the ban.
PRECEDENT TO REGRET
Any potential change to the UN approach to food aid following the ban has alarmed some donor nations and aid groups.
The United States — a key donor to aid efforts in Afghanistan — is concerned that some UN agencies may be considering an all-male aid delivery model, deputy US Ambassador to the United Nations, Lisa Carty, said on Wednesday during a briefing by Griffiths to UN member states.
“This could effectively cut off access to aid to women in need,” Carty said. “It could signal international agencies’ acquiescence to the Taliban’s unacceptable conditions thus normalizing the suppression with repercussions for humanitarian settings elsewhere.”
The International Rescue Committee said in an operational note on Wednesday that the role of women was “an operational necessity,” adding: “Without female staff at all levels and across all sectors, we cannot accurately assess needs and deliver aid and programs at the necessary scale.”
Griffiths stressed that Afghan women need to work in food aid distribution to ensure supplies reached the most vulnerable — women and girls.
“There’s absolute conviction that programs should all include women,” Griffiths said on Wednesday. “This may not be always needed in every single point of delivery, but they should include women, and even when they don’t there should be absolute clarity of reaching all members of society.”
The United Nations has appealed for $4.6 billion to fund the aid operation in Afghanistan in 2023. Griffiths said monitoring of programs would be ramped up to ensure they reach everyone.
“Aid delivery without participation of women cannot be normalized,” Deputy British UN Ambassador James Kariuki said.
When asked about the remarks Griffiths made on Monday, a WFP spokesperson said some changes had been made to operations after the ban was imposed.
“Where it is safe for them to do so, female partner staff continue to attend distributions and monitor assistance. Where needed, WFP has made operational adjustments to continue its life-saving assistance,” the spokesperson told Reuters.
The United Nations has managed to secure some health and education exemptions to the ban. Griffiths and the heads of some international aid groups met Taliban officials last week to push for more, including in the areas of cash and food aid distribution.
Norwegian Refugee Council Secretary General Jan Egeland, who was UN aid chief from 2003-06, said if any organizations started male-only aid delivery programs that would make it difficult for groups like NRC to stay. He said NRC had been forced to freeze its aid efforts until women can resume work.
“It sets a precedent in Afghanistan and in the wider world that we will live to regret,” he told Reuters. “The hard-liners would say ‘We won, we can do it without you’.”

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UAE ‘Sultan of Space’ grapples with Ramadan fast on ISS

UAE ‘Sultan of Space’ grapples with Ramadan fast on ISS
Updated 02 February 2023

UAE ‘Sultan of Space’ grapples with Ramadan fast on ISS

UAE ‘Sultan of Space’ grapples with Ramadan fast on ISS
  • Sultan AlNeyadi: ‘On average, there are 16 sunrises and sunsets daily... When do you (start and) break your fast?’
  • AlNeyadi: ‘I will also take my jiu-jitsu uniform because of my love for the sport’

DUBAI: The second Emirati to journey into space, martial arts enthusiast Sultan AlNeyadi, weighed up Thursday performing Ramadan in orbit — and promised to pack his jiu-jitsu suit for the ride.
AlNeyadi, 41, dubbed the “Sultan of Space” by his alma mater, will blast off on February 26 for the International Space Station (ISS) aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.
During his six months in orbit — a record time for any Arab astronaut — AlNeyadi said he would like to observe the holy month of Ramadan, when Muslims typically fast from dawn to sunset.
But space travel presents unique challenges.
“The ISS travels quickly... meaning it orbits around the Earth in 90 minutes,” he told reporters in Dubai.
“On average, there are 16 sunrises and sunsets daily... When do you (start and) break your fast?”
AlNeyadi said he could fast according to GMT time, which is used on the ISS, if circumstances allow.
Fasting is not compulsory for certain groups of people, including those who are traveling or unwell.
“I will prepare for the month of Ramadan with the intention to fast,” AlNeyadi said.
He will become the second man from the United Arab Emirates to go to space, after Hazzaa Al-Mansoori’s eight-day mission in 2019.
During the voyage, AlNeyadi will study the impacts of microgravity on the human body in preparation for future missions to the Moon and Mars, he said.
Six months “may seem like a long time, but I don’t mind because the schedule is packed.”
It has already been a long journey for AlNeyadi, who served 20 years in the UAE military.
He also studied electronics and communications engineering in Britain, and then completed a PhD in data leakage prevention technology at Griffith University in Australia.
The UAE is a newcomer to the world of space exploration but quickly making its mark.
It sent an unmanned spacecraft to Mars in 2021, in the Arab world’s first interplanetary mission, and last year a rover to the Moon.
AlNeyadi said he was “happy” to embark on the mission and would take along “pictures of my family, maybe some toys that belong to my children.”
“I will also take my jiu-jitsu uniform because of my love for the sport,” he added.
Asked whether he would do any low-gravity grappling while floating around the ISS, he laughed: “We’ll see how it goes.”