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How women in Iraq can become self-employed

Ahlam (on the right) is one of the women who received support from the Heartland Alliance (HAI). Fatimah at the HAI (on the left) is happy when these women enjoy success.

How women in Iraq can become self-employed

Returning to your country of origin isn’t always easy. Yet support from the GMAC and its partner organisation Heartland Alliance International enables women to establish their own businesses in Iraq. This is also what returnees Nahlah and Ahlam experienced. These two women are running successful online businesses in Baghdad respectively selling clothing and cosmetics.

Nahlah was 50 years old when she travelled to Germany with her son in 2016. She left Iraq in fear after a friend of her son was murdered. Yet her repeated applications to remain in Germany were refused. Nahlah decided to return to Iraq in 2022. “The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) helped me travel back to Baghdad”, she says. “My son stayed in Hamburg”, she adds, “but I had to return home to care for my other children; my daughter had children of her own at this time.” Back in Iraq, the IOM put Nahlah in touch with the Iraqi-German Centre for Jobs, Migration and Reintegration (GMAC), so that she could get help with her new start.

From teacher to entrepreneur

Nahlah previously worked as a teacher in Baghdad, but found it difficult to find work after her return. “Now I manage an Instagram account and sell clothing via WhatsApp”, she says. She is proud of her range of women’s and children’s clothing. She has the GMAC to thank for this new start and also the Heartland Alliance International (HAI), a GMAC partner organisation. It supported Nahlah by organising start-up stock for her business. “Now I can run my business myself and make a small profit to support my family and myself”, Nahlah states.

The GMAC and HAI have been cooperating since April 2022. The GMAC offers material support to people by means of benefits in kind that are provided both by its own centre and also by its partner organisations throughout the country. It often refers clients in the central and southern regions of Iraq directly to a partner organisation. Prospective entrepreneurs are allocated a permanent contact person for mentoring. Nahlah is impressed by the support she received for her business idea: “They helped me to set the prices for my goods in such a way that I could make a profit – and my business is now self-sustaining.”

Ahlam (on the left) is now running a successful online cosmetics business thanks to support from the HAI and GMAC.

How the GMAC and HAI support returnees

Fatimah, a lawyer and advisor at the HAI, is proud of her team’s work since they started their cooperation with the GMAC last year. She explains that the returnees receive comprehensive support with starting a business. There is a training course in which the necessary basic knowledge is conveyed. The GMAC team and the returnees jointly produce a business plan relating to their idea. Materials and tools are also provided until the individuals have become self-employed and started their business. “Most returnees are very happy”, says Fatimah. “Including with the legal and psychological support that we provide. Good psychological counselling is very important!”

Fatimah reports that many Iraqis returning from Europe need psychosocial support to cope with the transition. Legal support may often also be required, because many need to relearn how the legal system functions. New legal documents need to be requested in some cases. The HAI offers both these services. “Our projects are more successful when people receive good legal advice and have stable mental health”, Fatimah explains. “Everything is interrelated. Regular visits and good communication are also important. We always ensure time and space for counselling.”

Fatimah is a lawyer and advisor at the Heartland Alliance International.

Projects that can grow

The advisor emphasises that every individual is helped, irrespective of gender. “It’s rewarding to see women doing well after we have supported them”, Fatimah admits. Nahlah is just one of them. Ahlam also benefited from support provided by the GMAC and HAI. She returned to Iraq in 2022. This mother of seven children lives in Baghdad and now runs a successful online cosmetics business thanks to advice and support from the GMAC and HAI. “I mainly sell my products via WhatsApp, but I’m planning to build a website”, says the 54-year-old. She is delighted with the project and its growth opportunities.

Ahlam had left Iraq in 2016 and lived in Stuttgart for six years before she returned last year. “Three of my children are still in Germany, but the others stayed in Iraq”, she explains. Ahlam took part in a three-day business management workshop offered by the GMAC shortly after she returned to Baghdad. It enabled her to develop her business idea, which she then realised in October 2022 with support from the HAI. “It’s really enjoyable and I’m delighted to have this new opportunity”. she says. “I had nothing when I returned to Iraq, but now I can buy things for my family with the profit that I make from my business.”

As of: 06/2023

Good psychological counselling is very important!
Fatimah, lawyer and advisor at the Heartland Alliance International (HAI)

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