9 out of 10 Iraqi women stay out of the job market

9 out of 10 Iraqi women stay out of the job market

By Noor Faraj

Many obstacles prevent Iraqi women from helping to rescue Iraq’s flailing economy, which could use all the woman power it could get. Only 13% of women are ready to work, while only 8% of women are actually working, and fewer than 1% of them were able to reach decision-making positions in their fields.

This story narrates the reality of Iraqi women’s weak economic participation, traces its causes, and explains why women out of the work force makes the country poorer.

First wall: 9 out of 10 Iraqi women are not prepared to work

For most Iraqi women, the first hurdle to climb to seeking employment is social: they must want to work.

“I am responsible for seven children and a husband who is unable to work. Sometimes I don’t know how to feed them,”50-year-old Salima Mohammed told us. When asked whether she is able to work, Salima didn’t see how the question was relevant to her situation.

Women in Iraq do not work. Out of every 10 Iraqi women, nine are economically inactive*, while the proportion is almost inverse among men. For every 10 Iraqi men, eight are economically active.

According to the results of a survey conducted by the Iraqi Ministry of Planning for 2011, the number of Iraqi women who are prepared to enter the labor market does not exceed 13% of the total female population, which is low compared to other developing countries.  ILO statistics in 2019 indicate Iraq ranks third lowest for the proportion of economically active women among 189 countries.

This low percentage is largely the result of factors associated with the nature of Iraqi society and its perception of the role of women. Women are often unable to work because they are forbidden, according to a study by the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) entitled “Violence Against Women in Iraq: Problems and Options.” Three out of five older men say women in their households do not have the right to work. Two out of five young people share the same view.

Nevertheless, three out of five young males respect women’s right to work. In a society where young people make up more than half of the population, this is a significant generational development.

However, the change in social convictions and the recognition of women’s right to work is often not enough to draw women out of their homes. Although some agree women have a right to work, they feel the work should come in addition to–but not instead of–household responsibilities.

Traditional gender roles often burden women with a long list of tasks inside the home. “I got a job as a housekeeper but I refused it because I have to pay attention to the children. I can’t spend those long outside the house, “said Salima Mohammed, stressing that raising her children is her primary job even though they are now between 10 and 20 years old.

According to the International Labor Organization, Iraqi women do 86 percent of unpaid domestic care work and spend at least six hours a day caring for the home and children, compared to less than one hour by men. This leaves Iraqi women with little time for paid work.

The price Iraq pays to keep women at home

The price that Salima Mohammed pays to dedicate herself to her children is steep. On average, Salima’s nine-person household survives on the equivalent of $300 per month, which Salima receives from state benefits and donations from relatives. “When one of my children gets sick, I take him to the nurse who lives in our neighborhood,” Salima said.”I can’t afford to take him to the hospital, because I don’t have the fee for the hospital.”

The picture is the same in many households headed by non-working women. While about one in five Iraqi families lives in poverty according to data compiled by the World Food Program (WFP) in 2016, those worst hit are female-headed households. Four out of five women who are heads of their household are outside the labor force in most Iraqi provinces. By contrast, fewer than one in five male heads of household are economically inactive. These women are not looking for work even when they support their families economically.

Women who are not prepared to work are more vulnerable to poverty, and their families are also more vulnerable to poverty. According to the International Labor Organization, if just 25% more women participated in the labor market, Iraqis would be $2,527 richer person, or the Gross Domestic Product would grow by 11%.

The labor market can be a hostile environment for the few women who do want to work. To learn more about that, see the second part of this story.

Fewer than 8 out of 100 Iraqi women are actually working. Why should you care?

Second wall: Few women workers– fewer career options

The first part of this story reviewed some facts about why Iraqi women do not overcome the first barrier to greater female employment and simply decide to put themselves in the job market. But what about women who want to work?

In the first part of the series, we explored the dark green circle below: the overwhelming majority of women who have excluded themselves from the job market. Here we will explore the reality for those who overcame the first barrier and joined the smaller pool of women the light green circle below, the women who are ready and willing to work.

That means of every 13 women trying to get a job, only one will succeed. Here, Iraq sets another record in the absence of gender equality, achieving the second lowest rank among 130 countries in the proportion of women in employment, including neighboring countries.

According to the World Bank data, although the overall rate of female employment in the Middle East rose from 15% to 16% between 2014 and 2017, Iraq has seen a decline in the proportion of women in work from 11% to 8% during the same period. This means that for every one woman working in Iraq there are two women employed in the wider Middle East and five in high-income countries.

According to a 2019 UNESCO report “Assessment of the labor Market & Skills Analysis Iraq and Kurdistan Region-Iraq”60% of all female workers are employed by the government”, yet they do not constitute more than a third of the workforce in ministries and government institutions.“The reality of gender equality in ministries and institutions in Iraq” issued by the Iraqi Ministry of Planning indicates that for every seven men, there are three women working in government institutions.

Even those women who manage to secure a jobare often driven out by adverse working conditions. The 2012“Situation Analysis of Gender Equality and the Employment of Women in Iraq” report by the Iraqi Ministry of Planning indicates around half of the women surveyed reported wage discrimination in the private sector, while a third reported the same for public sector jobs. Salima turned down a job because, as she explained, “In return for working all day, they would not give me more than 15000 IQD” – around $12.

Getting more women to work in stable jobs would be an economic boon for the whole country, according to the International Labor Organization. If Iraq were to succeed in employing 25 out of every100 more women, Iraq’s gross domestic product (GDP*) could rise to $2,527 per capita– a total increase of $73 billion–equivalent to an 11% growth in PPP*.

Few women working in even fewer types of jobs

However, low rates of female employment reflect not only a problem in the number of women in the labor market, but also the lack of diversity in the types of jobs available to women. Women tend to end up in just a few sectors that are deemed socially acceptable for women. A look at employment patterns in government ministries reflects deeply engrained job discrimination by sector with women overrepresented in public service ministries and virtually absent from industrial and security ministries.

Data from the “gender reality in ministries and institutions in Iraq” report issued by the Iraqi Ministry of Planning reveals that in 2018 some ministries had a high percentage of female employees, such as the Central Bank, which , and the Ministry of Education, which employed three women for every two men, while the number of men and women were equal in the Ministry of Finance. At the other extreme, some ministries had a very low percentage of female employees, especially the Ministry of Interior, where the percentage of women did not exceed 2%, and the Ministry of Oil, where the proportion of women did not exceed 10%.

This sharp disparity in the distribution of women among different sectors can be illustrated by a simple comparison: for every 12 women working in the Central Bank, there were 9 women working in the Ministry of Education, compared to only two women working in the Ministry of Oil, and only one woman working in the Ministry of Interior.

Interviews with women employed in traditional and non-traditional occupations suggestsocietal factors play a role in this disparity. Women are expected to prefer office jobs or careers in education.Often their families prefer them to take jobs that minimize contact with men and are considered safer.

Women are almost completely absent from the Ministry of Interior even though the ministry has more than half a million employees. The number of female police officers, for example, does not exceed 350, according to Amal Kabbashi, a civil activist working to boost the role of women in the Ministry of Interior. “The security establishment is inherently biased towards men, which does not allow women to participate,” she said.

Shaima Ali Ibrahim, a ministry employee, describes herself as “a lucky one” because her family supported her decision to join the police force.

“Community rejection did not have much impact on me, because my family was supportive when I joined the police force, but the real challenge was rejection from the work environment by male peers,” she said.“But we did not back down until they gradually accepted our presence on their side.”

The exclusion of women from certain jobs not only limits women’s career choices and earning potential, but also limits the services that male-dominated sectors can offer. Tawfiq Hanoun, manager of the community police department in Basra, said, “Women are particularly important in the work we do, since we work directly with families, and the presence of policewomen encourages women to go to the community police and talk about the problems they face, so we need to strengthen the presence of the female component in our departments.”

Women in the community are often afraid to go to police stations because they fear scandal, especially in cases of domestic violence, sexual harassment or sexual blackmail. Therefore, they are more likely to confide in female police officers who are aware of the type of challenges faced by victims, not only in legal terms, but also in family, economic, and psychological aspects.

However, police departments still lack female staff, which may prevent female victims going to police stations and filing complaints. “The government has not done enough to overcome this problem,” Amal Kabbashi said. “The government can allocate a certain percentage of the vacant posts in the ministry exclusively to women, but it has not yet taken this step.”

The Interior Ministry is not the only ministry that suffers a shortage of women, but it illustrates how a shortage of female staff affects the government’s ability to provide services to all citizens.

In a country where nepotism is often the driving factor in who succeeds or fails in a workplace, having women in key leadership positions is regarded as key to getting more female talent into the workforce. However, women face an uphill battle in assuming positions of leadership. To learn more about that, see the third part of this story.

Fewer than 1% of women work in decision-making positions to lead the next generation into the workforce.

Earlier we discussed the challenges women face in participating in the labor market and difficulties finding a job.

Now we investigate the third hurdle for women’s professional advancement: securing decision-making positions.

Third wall: Very few women in decision-making positions

In a challenging institutional environment, Major Shaima Ali Ibrahim, manager of the women’s phylum of the Community Police Department in Baghdad, stands out as one of just a handful of senior female staff in the Ministry of Interior.

 Amal Kabbashi, however, believes real change is not possible while women are so vastly outnumbered in leadership roles. “Only a handful of women in the rank of major is still not enough to influence decision-making in the Interior Ministry,” she said.

The situation is similar in other sectors and public institutions, where the number of women in decision-making positions is low. According to the reality of gender equality in ministries and institutions in Iraq report, the only seven of 100 senior managers are women and 9 out of 100 assistant managers are women.

For every ten male managers in ministries and public institutions there is just one female in the same position.

Even those ministries that employ a large proportion of women do not necessarily give women access to managerial positions. For example, the education sector has a high rate of women employees. However, only three out of 10 school principals are women with the remaining seven filled by men.

However, women are still more likely to have access to decision-making positions in the public sector compared to the private sector. According to the World Bank, Enterprise Survey, Iraq ranks fifth lowest among 139 countries in the proportion of companies where women share ownership (7%). For every company in Iraq where a women shares ownership, there are three similar companies in the Middle East and seven in high-income countries with women with an ownership share of companies.

Iraq also ranks third lowest among 139 countries in the proportion of companies employing a women as general manager (2%). So, for every company employing a woman as general manager in Iraq, there are three similar companies in the Middle East and about nine in high-income countries.

Women may be absent from decision-making positions due to a combination of qualification, social, and psychological challenges.

“The reality of gender in the ministries and state institutions in Iraq” report indicates that for every woman who holds a higher educational degree (master’s or doctorate) working for a ministry or government institution, three men in the same position hold an equivalent qualification.

Social barriers also play a major role in hindering female employees accessing decision-making positions. They suffer a lack of time due to their unpaid care work at home , which may hinder both academic and professional development. In most cases they are unableto make their own decisions in their daily lives HERE. Even essential rights such as the right to travel, go outdoors, and participate in various activities often depend on getting permission from the men in the family– permission they often do not get.

The scarcity of women in managerial positions eliminates the potential contribution of a female point of view from decision-making and planning processes that might lead to more female-friendly workplaces. It also reduces the chances of achieving

Although the economic participation of Iraqi women is a complex problem, Iraqi youth seem more open to the idea of empowering women economically, and trying to find solutions. The last part of this story explores initiatives to increase women’s opportunities in the Iraqi labor market.

How did entrepreneurship training convince hundreds of young women to let the public sector dream go and think about starting their own business?

The key word is empathy.

Now we have analyzed the many barriers to women entering the workforce, it is time to consider solutions.Since 2014, a series of pilot programs aimed at empowering young people to embrace entrepreneurship have attracted a cohort of young women and trained them to start their own businesses.

These development programs are designed to encourage the new generation to develop their own startups and in the process to boost the private sector as a means of addressing the imbalances in Iraq’s economy. Aaron Bartnick explained this in his report “obstacles and opportunities for entrepreneurship in Iraq & the Kurdistan region” published by the Institute of Regional and International Studies (IRIS) in 2017.”The economy of the KRI and of Iraq is disproportionately driven by the public sector… However, problems with over-reliance on public sector employment have been exposed by the economic downturn that has gripped the region since 2014.”

This problem may be overcome by promoting small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).As the IRIS study emphasizes, “These SMEs account for over half of existing jobs worldwide and create jobs at more than twice the rate of more established companies. They are driving innovation by generating new ideas, new products, and creating new businesses, which is why the World Bank has cited entrepreneurship as “a key driver of growth and ”.

Innovation for Development is one of UNDP’s projects in Iraq aimed at promoting awareness of entrepreneurship among young Iraqis. According to Dhafer Hassan, the project’s manager, this scheme” resulted in building an active community around innovation and entrepreneurship”.

Innovation for Development has reached more than3,000 young people with around 40% female participation.

So, how did they convince hundreds of young women to get involved?

The keyword is empathy.

“We do a lot to facilitate female participation. Through social media we try to reflect female active participation to encourage others. We also select the training venues carefully to ensure a safe training environment, and make sure that the training environment is youthful and friendly to all participants. Therefore they will have a positive experience to share with their peers,” said Hassan.

Furthermore, reaching out to female participants may require more initiative to overcome social barriers that prevent women from attaining empowerment and employment opportunities, especially in closed social environments that may require tailor-made solutions to each situation. “Sometimes we agree to invite other family members to our events (a mother or a brother), and I personally call or answer calls from parents asking for more details regarding the participation of their daughters,” said Hassan.

This project ran up against social barriers. Between 2015 to 2019 the rate of female participation in the program varied across different Iraqi governorates. “The highest participation is usually in Baghdad (male and female)– mainly because it is the capital, more open, and has a large population, “Hassan said. The rate of participation decreases significantly in other areas, most notably in Muthana.”In our current application we have 2,100 applicants. Only 21 of them are from Muthana, and only one female among those 21,” he added.

Then what happened? Did women keep growing their businesses and live happily ever after?


Although the results of these efforts appear to be generally satisfactory, there are some good, some bad, and some ugly aspects. When we asked Hassan whether women are doing well in their startups compared to men, his answer highlighted other troubling trends.

“In some aspects, they are doing better than men because some women are showing higher commitment and dedication. Also family support is a key factor to their success, but they are doing better than men especially because their visibility is easier, which is not always a good thing, ”Hassan said.”The visibility women attract because of their startups usually increases their chances of being offeredbetter jobs in other institutions (mainly private companies), which means they end up closing their startups, especially with family and community pressure.”

In short, women who are already developing their own business get a lot of beginner’s luck because the scarcity of women in the labor market makes it easier for them to show off modest excellence. But this rapid visibility leads them to leave their startups. As a result, we have more women working in the private sector but hardly any remain in the zone of women-led businesses, which reduces their chances of taking top administrative positions in the institutions of the future.

Economically active: those who want to work and who are looking for work, whether they are already working or not.

Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is the gross domestic product (GDP) which is the market value of all final goods and services locally, ie, produced within the country within a specified period of time.GDP is a measure of the economy’s performance. The greater the rate of GDP, the greater the size of the macroeconomic and therefore the volume of total income and ultimately offset by the increase in income per capita.

Purchasing Power Parity (PPP): The ability of citizens within a country to acquire their needs for goods and services through their per capita income, because purchasing power may vary from country to country, although per capita income may be equal.

Lots of style and grammar problems:

Around half of women working in the private sector suffer wage inequality in favor of men.

These donuts show the percentage of women who reported gender inequality in wages in favor of men in each sector.

Public sector

There is a lot wrong with this graphic.

“Women workers are overrepresented in some sectors while absent from others.”

Many of the ministries are included twice and the way they are titled is inconsistent. Remove ‘The’ from the titles and capitalise them because they are proper nouns. ‘Ministry of Communications’ for example.