Story
By:
  • Sahar Alsaffouri | National Communications Officer

With limited access to opportunities and societal pressures, Iraqi women face many challenges in entrepreneurship. But Iraqi women are known for their determination, and it is this unwavering aspiration to overcome social barriers that binds the stories of three women who are making strides in industries traditionally reserved for men.

Seeking to build a better future and more equitable opportunities, not just for themselves, but for their communities as well, Bayan, Alaa and Salwa have become national heroes for many women and girls in Iraq.  

Bayan Majid: A Story of Healing and Hope

Bayan Majid stands tall in the vibrant hues adorning the walls of her art gallery in Sulaymaniyah. It’s a space that embodies her multi-faceted identity – a painter, an activist, and a mother of three. She established her gallery in 2016 during the peak of the Daesh conflict. Amidst the turmoil and despair in Iraq, the gallery represented a hub for relaxation, where visitors could view artwork and participate in courses.

“Art is not only a form of self-expression,” she believes, "but also serves as a tool for purifying the soul, a method of release from suffering". This conviction led her to begin teaching the art of painting to vulnerable populations.

"I don't just create art; I create artists," she says, with a smile that reflects the pride she takes in encouraging creativity.

Through IOM’s Enterprise Development Fund (EDF), Bayan received a grant that enabled her to transition her business from a home-based operation to opening a larger café gallery. She also purchased a photo printer and other equipment, enabling her to reproduce digital prints of her paintings, and put them up for sale, widening her reach and ensuring additional financial sustainability. Furthermore, this support enabled her to employ four additional staff members at her café gallery.

Bayan in her café gallery in Sulaymaniyah, February 2024. Photo © IOM 2024/ Seivan ABDULGAFUR

Alaa Adel: Shifting Gears and Changing Tracks

Across the busy streets of Baghdad’s Kharada neighborhood, another unique story of resilience and creativity unfolds. Alaa Adel has made a name for herself in an industry usually dominated by men in Iraq: fashion design.

For years before taking on fashion design, Alaa wore a different hat – that of a professor at the College of Fine Arts at Baghdad University. However, her passion for creative expression and entrepreneurship, coupled with the support of her husband and children, motivated her to leave behind the familiar confines of academia in 2022. Recognizing the limited options in the local fashion industry, which relied heavily on imported clothes, Ala saw a market for locally designed and produced garments. She established her own fashion design workshop in Baghdad and launched her brand “Iraq Couture”.  

A grant from IOM’s Enterprise Development Fund (EDF) helped Alaa expand her business operations by purchasing new sewing machines, fabric, packaging materials, workshop furniture, as well as establishing new marketing partnerships and hiring five additional employees.

Her innovative business approach, bringing everything from manufacturing to photo shoots inside her transformed workshop, sets her apart from traditional sewing factories. Her business model not only inspires other women entrepreneurs, but also creates an enabling environment for young women designers, flipping the narrative about women’s entrepreneurship in Baghdad.

Alaaa in her workshop in Baghdad, February 2024. Photo © IOM 2024/Sahar Alsaffouri

Salwa Ahmed: Cultivating Dreams

Beyond the hustle and bustle of Baghdad city lie the fertile plains and rural communities of Latifiya. Here, Salwa Ahmed runs her family’s livestock business – traditionally managed and operated by men in Iraq.

Even as a child, Salwa was drawn to the rhythm of agricultural life. With the encouragement and support of her family, Salwa started small and invested her earnings into expanding the business.

"Any time I have some money saved up, I invest in buying new sheep," Salwa says. Through her dedication, her flock has grown to 35 sheep, which allows her to generate revenue by selling their wool, dairy products, and trading the sheep, becoming a role model for other women in her community.

Salwa's journey is not just about personal growth, but also about contributing to her family's well-being. "I cover all my family's expenses from this business," she shares with a sense of pride.

Salwa received a grand from IOM’s Individual Livelihoods Assistance (ILA) programme, which helped her expand her business, purchase additional sheep and other materials for her business.

Salwa at her countryside farm in the outskirts of Baghdad, February 2024. Photo © IOM 2024/Sahar Alsaffouri

IOM’s Enterprise Development Fund (EDF) is an innovative program designed to support livelihoods at the community level through private sector revitalization and economic development by targeting small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

The EDF provides financial capital to SMEs across various sectors – primary, secondary, and tertiary – with a focus on creating jobs and contributing to post-conflict economic recovery. The EDF uses a multi-stage selection process in which businesses are scored based on a custom-built scoring algorithm, followed by a rigorous due-diligence process, The selection process has been catered for the different adaptations of EDF, considering their contexts and specificities in targeting sectoral businesses, Additionally, the EDF's women's program specifically targets businesses owned by women to targets businesses owned by women to increase the representation of female business owners and to encourage women’s participation in the labour force. The two main objectives of EDF-W are to support female-led businesses to expand through facilitated access to capital, and to support the entry into the labour force of female jobseekers who may face cultural, economic, and social barriers.

The Individual Livelihoods Assistance (ILA) program is another key initiative undertaken by IOM in Iraq. It is specifically designed to empower vulnerable households to achieve economic stability and create sustainable livelihoods. This program offers a tailored approach, providing individuals with the skills and resources they need to succeed. This includes vocational training, business-financing in the form of cash grants for new or existing micro-enterprises, and support in developing marketable skills. By equipping individuals with the necessary tools and knowledge, the ILA program enables them to not only generate income but also build resilience and independence.

The stories of Bayan, Alaa, and Salwa are very different, but united by a common thread: They are weaving unique patterns into the women’s economic empowerment in Iraq. They inspire hope and resilience in a generation to dream bigger and build a brighter future for themselves, their families, and their communities.

 

These initiatives are possible through the generous support of the Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA), and the Government of Germany through KfW.

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SDG 8 - Decent Work and Economic Growth
SDG 10 - Reduced Inequalities
SDG 11 - Sustainable Cities and Communities