Thanks to the PCPM Foundation, women in Iraq are setting off with their business activities

‘Due to the socio-cultural norms that apply in federal Iraq or Iraqi Kurdistan, local women have a much more difficult path to take their professional initiative and break out into financial independence’ – explains project manager Dorota Woroniecka of PCPM.

The goal of the project implemented by the Polish Center for International Aid is the professional activation of women living in Shekhan (Iraqi Kurdistan). A total of 130 women living in Shekhan applied to the project with their ideas, which was a condition for admission to the competition. A committee, composed of representatives of the PCPM, local authorities, and the Supreme Council of Women, established criteria based on which the best 44 project proposals were selected. Preference was given to economically disadvantaged, single women and profiles of services that were lacking in the city. These 44 women underwent 10 days of training in the basics of entrepreneurship and learned how to do accounting, create a business plan, fill out formal applications and learned the basics of law.

In the end, 30 projects were submitted to the committee, of which 18 implemented by 19 women were accepted. ‘In the final approval of the projects to receive funding, we paid special attention to individual interviews with the applicants. We were keen to find out whether the woman was actually ‘behind’ the idea, or whether she was only applying on behalf of her husband, cousin, or brother, who would be the final beneficiary’ – adds Dorota Woroniecka from PCPM.

For each idea that gains approval from the committee, the European Union provides $3,000 under the MASAR (Maintaining Strength and Resilience for Local Governments in Iraq and Lebanon) program. The value of the entire project implemented by the PCPM in Iraqi Kurdistan is $65,000. The funds can be used to purchase durable equipment for the newly established business: furniture, machinery, and equipment. A significant portion of the beneficiaries is Yezidi women, as well as internally displaced persons (IDP, Internally Displaced Person) due to the years-long war caused by the so-called Islamic State (ISIS).

Shekhan is located in the disputed territories between the KRG (Kurdistan Regional Government) and federal Iraq, de facto most of the district is under the control of the KRG, with only one sub-district (Zelikan) under the control of the Iraqi federal government. It is one of the areas of northern Iraq that has received the largest number of internal refugees, or Iraqis fleeing the so-called Islamic State. As a result of the hostilities, the population of the Shekhan district has increased by 50% just in four years. About half of the IDPs now live in three camps dedicated to them, while the rest reside in the district’s towns and villages.

‘Until 2003, there were no women at all in Shekhan who were engaged in entrepreneurship or business, even in a very basic form. Since 2003, there has been significant progress in the public perception of the role of women, NGOs such as PCPM have emerged to encourage and help women. The priority was to help economically disadvantaged women without any work, often living only on the material support of relatives’ – says Shekhan Municipality Chairman Khalid Nermo Zedo.

‘Then came projects aimed at women who have already taken their first steps in business, and now want to develop themselves further, and improve their skills. Such a project for our female residents was directed by the PCPM, which allows some enterprising women to develop themselves further, and enables others to take that first step in running their own business. These are very important initiatives not only for the women themselves but for our entire community. Today, no one is surprised here anymore by a woman who runs her business, hires employees, and is independent in business and life’ – Khalid Nermo Zedo adds.

The Polish Center for International Aid is – together with the Dutch Union of Dutch Municipalities (VNG), the Union of Danish Municipalities (KL), and the Catalan Agency for Development Cooperation (ACCD) – the contractor of the project.

MASAR is funded by the European Union. The PCPM supports Iraqi local governments with, among other things, investments in water infrastructure, capacity building for effective territorial management and spatial planning, and boosting local economic development. Unfortunately, the Polish Center for International Aid’s mission in Iraq is under threat of being closed down in Iraq, unless the PCPM Foundation succeeds in securing other resources for operations in the country beyond the EU project, which ends in December 2022.

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