Countries / Territories


  • Women, peace, and prosperity in Iraq

    Women, peace, and prosperity in Iraq

    By Zahraa Witwit, Deputy Coordinator, SAAVI

    Through conflict and political instability, economic stagnation and the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the protracted crisis in Iraq has raised many questions about the future. Within this context, women often face further constraints to improving their lives.

    Significant gender disparities limit opportunities for women and inhibit the country’s development prospects. In Iraq, women are among the most vulnerable groups not only due to cultural codes but also as a result of the effects of war with few avenues to express themselves  

    The consequences of conflict have further limited women’s roles to taking care of their families in the absence of lost breadwinners. While 74% of men aged 15 and over are active in labour force, only 12% of women are – a rate well below the regional average. Many women rely on informal work, which tends to be poorly paid and leaves these workers particularly exposed to exploitation and abuse.  

    The forces in the society that drag the women’s status perennially down have to be addressed through peaceful means to avoid and mitigate potential negative effects of interventions. Therefore, preferred approaches in women’s empowerment, underpin in the ‘do not harm’ principle, and include, inter alia, understanding the specific aspects of the context and community mobilization, to engage with men and village elders in order to build trust and secure the support for proposed actions. Adopting complementary strategies to support Iraqi women to increase their income and earn independently in sectors such as agribusiness and agrifood value chains, where they play a predominant role, can help speed up the process of change and empowerment. Furthermore, enabling women to strengthen their roles as decision makers at household and community levels can be further achieved by reinforcing or forming of women’s informal associations and groups, and holding regular interaction with similar groups from other communities and governorates.

    European Union funded, Strengthening the Agriculture and Agri-food Value Chain and Improving Trade Policy in Iraq (SAAVI),project activities contribute directly and indirectly to peacebuilding by supporting the expansion of opportunities in high-potential areas of economic activity. SAAVI is also working to address gender-related issues in order to help create jobs for women and support female entrepreneurs by engaging them in activities focused on high-potential areas of agriculture and agri-food value chains, as trade policy improvement. This includes working with farmers and small businesses in value chains with promising opportunities to empower women, improving access to finance for female-led businesses, reliable information and training programmes exclusively designed for women. Fostering women’s empowerment in a context like Iraq’s requires a comprehensive and inclusive approach. SAAVI is working with a wide range of stakeholders to help bring about positive change in Iraqi women’s lives.  Iraqi women are eager to resume their duties beyond their traditional domestic responsibilities. As evidenced by the increasing number of women leading small businesses in and outside Baghdad and the  presence of women in  leading positions at various government institutions and political arena. Throughout SAAVI assessments and interactions with women groups, they showed their enthusiasm to benefit from any opportunity that can help them to develop and enhance their livelihoods beyond their vicinity. 

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    Trade for Peace: Case for Iraq

    Improving trade policy has the potential to transform Iraq’s economy. Could it also help in building peace and security? 

    By Juneyoung Lee, Derek Carnegie and Eric Buchot

    Years of conflict in Iraq have killed tens of thousands, displaced millions, and impeded economic and social development. The country’s post-conflict reconstruction is complex and challenging. The main goal of expanding trade will be improving broad-based economic growth. Additionally, diversifying the economy, expanding exports and committing to rules-based trade may play an important role in peacebuilding. By supporting improvements to trade policy and WTO accession, increased predictability, stability, and transparency could therefore be among SAAVI’s indirect benefits for Iraqis.

    Despite longstanding theoretical disagreements, there is a growing body of empirical evidence that trade and peace are closely connected. Liberal economic thinking has typically emphasized how deeper trade ties make peace more attractive by raising the opportunity costs of conflict. This position suggests that countries and groups engaging in mutually beneficial exchange have a strong incentive to maintain good relations. While often discussed with states as the primary unit of analysis, the same logic also suggests that increased exchange between regionally or otherwise fragmented groups is a disincentive to conflict between non-state actors.

    And at an individual level, trade-driven growth and the expansion of income-generating opportunities (including by attracting new inflows of foreign direct investment) can discourage involvement with armed groups. Trade that builds young peoples’ hope by creating jobs and entrepreneurship opportunities may therefore be particularly important in fragile countries such as Iraq with many unemployed young people. In targeting youth (among other groups) and in reinforcing social and economic cohesion, SAAVI’s components on developing agriculture and agri-food value chains also help to encourage peacebuilding.

    Furthermore, engagement in international trade both requires and motivates the establishment of effective and coordinated institutions, including rules-based governance. Such institutions, in turn, provide alternative means of managing disputes and are essential to preventing the escalation of tensions and to peacebuilding in post-conflict contexts.

    WTO membership is an excellent example of participation in a rules-based global/multilateral system that fosters the emergence of resilient institutions and modern legal frameworks, and promotes good governance. Accession is essentially an institution-building process and is based on the principles of non-discrimination, transparency, and the rule of law. The WTO also provides a platform for cooperation among and assistance for fragile and conflict-affected states, such as through the Trade for Peace Programme launched in 2017, which advocates the WTO accession process as a pathway to economic growth, development, and security.

    SAAVI’s Expected Result 4, which aims to improve trade policy for enhanced performance and value chain competitiveness, is thus highly relevant to peacebuilding through institution-building. This is to be implemented through direct support to WTO accession, legislative and regulatory reform, capacity development, and fostering inclusiveness and participation not only for the public sector but also the private sector.

    At the same time, it must be acknowledged that trade is not a cure for all ills. Realizing the potential of trade in reducing the risk of conflict through inclusive growth, economic integration, and improved governance is a long-term project in post-conflict contexts. Nevertheless, rethinking trade policy in Iraq can contribute to these efforts.

    This is a joint ITC-WTO sec article.

    Iraq’s young entrepreneurs – a nascent but promising engine of economic growth

    Iraq’s young entrepreneurs – a nascent but promising engine of economic growth

    With 8 million people in the age 15 to 24 group, Iraq’s youth bulge offers an opportunity for growth and prosperity. Working with and for youth essential in realising the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. In this blog, SAAVI explains how it is working to support the economic empowerment of youth in the country.

    Iraq’s youth – who total more than 8 million in the age 15 to 24 group – represent their country’s most important untapped resource. Strengthening the supports for young entrepreneurs and their small businesses may be one of the best ways to foster recovery and development.

    Crises and the potential for a youth-led recovery

    Conflict and instability, an embryonic private sector and lack of economic diversification, and prolonged underinvestment have all contributed to slim down employment opportunities and career prospects. Younger workers bear the brunt of this problem. The ILO’s estimated youth unemployment rate for Iraq is about twice the overall unemployment rate, and has exceeded 20% in each year since 2014. The COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated existing challenges. The impacts of the health crisis and oil price fluctuations led to a 10.4% contraction in GDP in 2020, worsening labour market prospects.

    With a young population – the median age is just 21 years, about ten years below the global level – improving labour utilisation rates among the young is critical to recovery and raising the prospects for growth over the longer term in Iraq. Not realising the entrepreneurship potential of young people means that opportunities for enhanced innovation and dynamism will be missed.

    In addition to fostering inclusive growth, creating new economic opportunities for Iraqi youth is critical to supporting peacebuilding in the country. Unemployed young people are more easily attracted to extremist – and even armed – groups, but secure livelihoods give them a stake in recovery and stability.

    Establishing new businesses is always challenging for young people with few resources and small professional networks. Legislative and regulatory factors, underdeveloped infrastructure, and high levels of uncertainty all further discourage Iraqi entrepreneurs. And the pandemic has not improved the situation for new and small firms. As seen in a recent series of surveys of Iraqi SMEs, most firms have had considerable trouble maintaining normal sales and operations in the past year and a half. And while the situation has since improved somewhat, in the early months of the pandemic about two-thirds of firms saw a risk of having to permanently shut down.

    Fostering youth entrepreneurship in high-potential sectors

    New businesses and SMEs have historically played a smaller role in Iraq, where oil rents account for 40% of GDP, than in most other upper-middle income countries. Entrepreneurship in high-potential areas of the private sector nevertheless remains extremely promising.

    ITC is implementing the Strengthening Agriculture and Agri-food Value Chains and Improving Trade Policy (SAAVI) project. Among other objectives, this EU-funded project aims to support the economic empowerment of Iraqi youth by fostering entrepreneurship in promising agribusiness sectors. ITC estimates suggest that expanding production in these sectors by supplying domestic markets could create 170,000 new jobs by 2030.

    Several young entrepreneurs participated in a series of consultations organised by SAAVI on their aspirations and concerns about pursuing projects in the agriculture and agri-food sector. They shared their business ideas, their motivation and capacities for starting innovative new firms, as well as their concerns about challenges in the business environment and the limited assistance they could expect to receive while getting started. 

    Addressing these challenges calls for a holistic approach. Firstly, fostering sustained improvements in youth entrepreneurship will require developing young entrepreneurs’ technical competencies and business skills through the establishment of effective training, coaching and mentoring services. Secondly, enabling ecosystems are crucial for business development. The institutional support on which entrepreneurs depend to access finance, grow their firms, and reach new markets will need to be strengthened. Thirdly, policy reforms designed in partnership with the private sector will be needed to create a more conducive business environment. Millions of Iraqi youth are waiting to take advantage of the opportunities these changes would bring.

    IOM, FAO, ITC (2021), Panel Study: Impact of COVID-19 on Small- and Medium-Sized Enterprises in Iraq, https://www.intracen.org/uploadedFiles/intracenorg/Content/Redesign/Projects/IOMIraqCOVID.pdf.


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