Our impact, their voices

ILO supports rural women in Basra to develop their skills in the date sector

An ILO capacity building training programme for rural women in Basra seeks to foster skills, entrepreneurship and decent employment in the field of agriculture, funded by the European Union.

Article | 07 March 2022
Abu Al-Khaseeb District, Basra, Iraq (ILO NEWS) Alaa Abass Jassim has many wonderful memories of spending time with her father on their farm in the southern Iraqi city of Basra.

The young university graduate has always loved nature and is starting a small business selling products made of molasses, vinegar, and dates.

“I grew up on a farm. When I was a child I used to see how my father would cultivate the land and sometimes I would help him,” said the young Iraqi. “When I grew up, I went to university but I still love nature and palm trees.”

Yet, like many other young women interested in establishing or expanding a small business, Alaa needs all the support she can get; from skills development in the use of modern agricultural machinery and Occupational Safety and Health, to gaining knowledge in entrepreneurship and ultimately setting up a small business.

She is one of more than 30 other women who recently took part in a capacity building training programme to foster skills, entrepreneurship and decent employment in the field of agriculture. Organised by the International Labour Organization (ILO), and supported by the European Union (EU), the training is part of efforts to promote workers’ skills development, encourage the participation of women in agriculture work; and improve working conditions through the application of International Labour Standards and national labour legislation. This two-year project worth EUR 3 million is funded by the European Union and is being implemented by the ILO.

The programme included both theatrical in-class learning sessions and practical training on farms in the Abu Al-Khaseeb District of Basra, known for its fertile land and date farms.

In the field, the focus of the sessions was on the use of modern machinery to improve the quality and quantity of agriculture products. It included sessions on irrigation, cultivation and fertilization, as well as storing and packaging products.

The training programme also focused on business leadership skills, sales and marketing-related topics. “Through the expertise and advice of the trainers, we were able to understand how to market our products in the future. I have experience in the field of date production, but I don’t have experience in marketing,” said Alaa following the training. “It is important for women to establish small businesses and rely on themselves.”

Entizar Hassan Abdulbari, who is her family’s sole breadwinner, and who has a small start-up business making sweets and pastries made from date products, said that most of the women she met on the training had prior knowledge in the field of agriculture but they lacked the technical knowledge needed to make their businesses a success.

“We all have knowledge and experience through what we have learnt from our fathers and grandfathers but not in a scientific or technical way. But through this training we gained scientific knowledge which complements our own lived experience,” said Entizar.

“I have learnt how to plan, market and advertise my products and how to rely on myself more,” she added.

In the longer-term, the programme aims to target around 500 rural women in different parts of the country, namely Basra and Dohuk. It will provide further trainings for women to enhance their access to decent work but also to self-employment through the establishment of small businesses in agriculture. This will be guided by ILO’s GET Ahead, a gender sensitive programme aimed at promoting enterprise development among women in poverty who want to start or are already engaged in small-scale businesses.

For the ILO, a key aspect of its farm-level interventions is addressing some of the Occupational Safety and Health challenges on those farms, especially for women workers. A week-long training for over thirty representatives from the agricultural sector in Basra, including farmers and farm workers, Occupational Safety and Health specialists, gender specialists, agricultural union members, and labour inspectors examined some of the key Occupational Safety and Health issues facing the sector and ways to address them.

“Occupational Safety and Health sessions are crucial because first and foremost, they protect workers and farm owners and at the same time, they facilitate the production process and enhance production by providing farmers with skills related to safety and health,” said Imad Saadoun Yacoub from the General Federation of Trade Unions in Basra.

Wahbiya Zrar Assad, a lawyer and gender specialist who gave a session on gender-related issues, says the real challenge lies in ensuring that more and more rural women have access to such trainings and other services, which she says they often lack. But Wahbiya welcomed the ILO initiative, saying it has reached the heart of communities where women often feel left behind.

“During the sessions, we discussed the many challenges facing rural women due to them being far from urban areas and far from the services they need,” she said. “If women and mothers don’t feel safe and don’t feel that their rights are protected, then this will have a lasting impact on future generations.”

“This project is the start of a solution to a big problem in Iraq.”

ILO’s interventions on farms in Basra are implemented under an EU-supported project which seeks to enhance labour governance, inspection and working conditions in response to COVID-19. They are being implemented jointly with The Swedish Development Aid Organization (SWEDO) and the Peace and Freedom Organization (PFO).

For more information, contact:
Nisreen Bathish
Communications Advisor