Monday, 18 June 2012, 08:17 GMT
Women seek to break the male economic dominance

Sabat Omer speaks to a customer in the Family Mall, one of the luxurious malls in the Kurdistan Region's capital. Sabat works six days a week./GLOBE PHOTO/Safin Hamid

The Kurdish Globe
By Salih Waladbagi--Erbil

Socio-economic changes force women to seek work outside of customary home life

Years ago, it was customary for women in Kurdistan to stay at home and raise children, while men went out to earn money and put food on the table.

Nowadays, with the rapid socioeconomic changes in the region and across the world, women are looking to increase their presence in the workforce and secure employment to support their families.

Sabat Omer, a female worker in the Family Mall, one of the luxurious malls in the Kurdistan Region's capital, works six days a week. She claims she has to work for nearly 10 hours per day.

Omer said: "When I graduated from Erbil's Technical Faculty of Electricity in 2009, I sought for work in a government institution but I failed." Then she tried to find a job in a private company.

After graduation, she spent five months unemployed. "While I was jobless, many of my friends were employed at the private sector companies," she said.

She described the period of her unemployed as a "very uncomfortable period" and felt "very depressed". With the assistance of her friends she found a full-time-job at a Turkish branded-store based in Family Mall.

In the patriarchal society of Kurdistan, some women are not allowed to work in public places such as shops. As an alternative, parents tried to secure employment for their daughters in the public sector domain.

Omer remarked that her parents were opposed to her working in a public place. They thought it is not "appropriate for a young girl" to work away from home life and for her to have "contact" with a lot of people, according to Omer.

The decision to work means that some women face some social problems that they may not have experienced before.

"I have so far faced some social problems as a consequence of my job. My close relatives and friends blame me for not visiting them as expected before. I have not even enough time to sit around with the family," she explained.

Ranjbar Osman, a social researcher in Kurdistan's Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, attributes the reason of not allowing women to work out of home life in the past to the religious thinking of people.

He added that as a consequence of economic and social changes, men have reached the understanding that they need financial assistance of women and are ready to give them the consent to work outside of their homes besides duties such as housekeeping and taking care of the children.

Some families send their daughters out to work because of poverty or because they may not have a male member to turn to, Osman remarked.

However, there are more challenges ahead for the female workforce to overcome the negative mentality of society, according to Osman.

"Women can build their confidence when they have an independent financial source. This way, women can reduce some of the marital problems because sometimes men blame women for spending a lot of money."

With all the changes, source of finance becomes one of the main concerns of young couples.

"Now young men seek to get married with employed women. This way, they can have a stronger economy in the future," Osman said.

Many of the international and local brands are now seeking to employ women in their shops.

Yosra Suleiman is a young female manager who sells Turkish Tabuu branded clothes at Family Mall. She has a female worker and pays her around $550 per month. Her salary is approximately $150 more than the salary of a college graduate working for a government institution.

She said "I have some criteria for the female worker who should work here. The worker should have finished college or a faculty, knows at least two languages, appropriately tall as well as be well-prepared."

Suleiman described requirements for women as they are able to welcome customers very kindly, explaining that women can attract the "attention of customers" much better than men.

She furthermore remarked that she believes that the female workforce will change the appearance of the Kurdish economy.