Today, in Iraq, over 1.5 million Iraqi women are widowed. More than half of these women live in poverty and face obstacles to gaining employment, including having faced severe trauma. To support these women, Week of Compassion is working closely with Propensity Catalyst to help Iraqi widows launch sustainable, women-led businesses in Baghdad.
Over a two-year period, the Women's Empowerment through Business (WEB) program has trained hundreds of women in business and entrepreneurial practices. An initial cohort of 10 women have completed intensive courses in candle-making. Among those women was Hana'a--a widow and sole-provider for her family. Though initially skeptical of the training, Hana'a participated in the courses and was glad of her decision. "I met lovely people, learned a skill which will help me raise my income and support my family and grandsons," she said, reflecting on the experience. "Now I am developing plans to utilize the trainings to earn money."
The participants of that original cohort are passing their skills on to an additional 100 women. Another 100 women have been trained in sewing and are currently expanding their knowledge to jewelry-making.
Of course, running a successful business takes more than artisan and entrepreneurial skills. It requires access to capital and markets, so WEB blends rigorous, hands-on business and vocational training with start-up financing and connections to local and international markets.
This model has had significant impact. Iraqi women trained in candle making have produced almost 5,500 candles for the Akkadian Collection, [akkadiancollection.com]. These candles have been shipped to the United States for sale and have generated over $107,000 in revenue, allowing women micro-business owners to increase their incomes, on average, by 58%.
Beyond money, human relationships and well-being are at the heart of this program. Prosperity Catalyst also provides support for women's personal needs, including ongoing psychosocial support and through the program women build community with one another. As Hayam, a Candle-Maker and Trainer involved with the program explains, "This program makes much more sense than any previous ones. We feel that we're not left behind after being trained, as had happened before with other programs."
Given the successes of this program, Prosperity Catalyst is beginning new programs focused on serving women who have been displaced from their homes, known as Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), in Erbil, Iraq, where many newly arrived women face obstacles integrating to the new culture. This new program offers women economic opportunities to bridge the transition process. At least 600 migrant-women In Erbil will take courses in business skills and receive vocational training in various industries such as textiles, candles, jewelry, and other products. This program will help them support themselves in their new environment, develop relationships with one another, and settle into the new community.
One Iraqi mother of two who has participated in the program has a message for what this program has meant to her and her fellow women:. "For years we have been living in a very tough situation, fighting stereotypes and a male-dominated society," she told us. "What the world must know," she continued, "is that Iraqi mothers are heroes."
Your support of Prosperity Catalyst through Week of Compassion is an investment in empowering Iraqi women who heroically strive to provide for their families even after tragedy and despite gender-based obstacles. With your support, these women find independence and hope as they begin to earn a livelihood and build community with one another.