“This is just the beginning. I’m still developing myself,” she said. The slogan on her purple T-shirt declared, “You Have to Love Yourself.”
Rawan Al-Zubaidi, a business partner at an Iraqi NGO that supports start-ups and young entrepreneurs, said there’s been a noticeable increase in home-based businesses since the pandemic’s start, including women making food deliveries, sweets, accessories, crocheting and embroidering.
“It represents a solution to obstacles that Iraqi women face when trying to find a job,” she said, citing women whose husbands or fathers won’t let them work, unsupportive male colleagues, discrimination and lack of career growth opportunities.
“Some Iraqi women can’t find a job because conservative families or husbands consider that women talking directly with other men on the job will bring shame on them,” Rawan said.
Women’s labor force participation in Iraq is particularly low. As of 2018, only 12.3% of women of working age were employed or looking for work, according to the United Nations.
Tamara Amir, who manages a Facebook page to educate Iraqi women about their rights, said she receives dozens of calls each day from women facing sexual harassment at work. Often, they report feeling they have to give their male boss “something in return” to get a job or advancement.