There are still not enough female journalists in Iraq. The profession is largely the domain of men. The project “Her Turn” helps Iraqi women to develop their journalistic skills, thereby giving them new confidence to hold their own in a male-dominated environment.
The Federal Foreign Office is promoting the taz Panter Stiftung project to the tune of 125,000 euro within the framework of its cultural relations and education policy. Eighteen female Iraqi journalists engage in discussion with German and Iraqi experts during online workshops on issues such as climate, corruption, human rights and internet hate speech. This enables the participants to develop their journalistic skills. The plan is also to invite them to Berlin for a networking session. On 24 June, the taz published a special supplement with seven articles from participating journalists. Below is the contribution “The female millionaires” by Leila Ahmad. You can find all the texts here.
The female millionaires
The Kurdistan region has been suffering from a financial crisis for many years. Two illiterate women, of all people, are still raking in dinar like hay.
Aska Abdullah Raza sits barefoot in front of her house. The grey concrete under her feet is cracked, and the broom by the door has also seen better days. She looks like a perfectly normal woman in her early 60s. But she says: “I have made so much money through crop and livestock farming that not even Saddam Hussein’s diggers could scoop away my profits.”
Rezan Mohammed, black dress, coloured headscarf, is standing on the square in front of the citadel in Erbil. Laid out in front of her on a table are finely draped necklaces made with precious stones. The 29‑year‑old looks like a simple market seller. “Actually,” she says, “I produce large quantities of pickled vegetables. My annual turnover is so good that I’ve now ventured into necklaces, bracelets, earrings and women’s jewellery, which I also sell online.”
The two women are extraordinary for two reasons. Not only that the Kurdistan region has been experiencing a financial and economic crisis for many years, not only that a few years ago bazaars and the business world were almost exclusively the domain of men – both women have in common the fact that they can neither read nor write.
According to the workers union for the Kurdistan region, illiterate women are particularly likely to live in precarious situations. The starting conditions for Aska Abdullah Raza, too, were difficult. She recounts: “My seven siblings and my parents died early from disease.” She never considered giving up. Instead, she started to work in the area of crops and livestock farming and carpet weaving. “I wish I had learned to read and write, then I could now run my business better.”
The same applies to Rezan Mohammed, who also left school at an early age, as her mother became ill. Today she provides financial support for her siblings and parents.
Of course, these two success stories are not everyday occurrences, but Ahmed Mohammad, member of the workers union for the Kurdistan region, nonetheless also believes that “women have a key role to play in rebuilding and rejuvenating the labour market. Whether as self-employed persons or as workers in the factories.”
However, it is also the case that socially disadvantaged women in particular are expected to work. Few of them earn as well as Aska Abdullah Raza, who is viewed critically despite her success, mainly because she has never married. “People ask me what I need my wealth for if I don’t have any children.”
And what is her response? “I donate five million Iraqi dinar each year to poor families. I have bought a mosque for one village, and when I die, my entire fortune will be distributed among poor families.”
If she were President, journalist Leila Ahmad from Kalar-Bignrd would fight for more women’s rights and remove absolutely all justification for violence from the curricula.