Women find new opportunity in Arab Jabour

By Kevin Stabinsky Sgt., 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division Public Affairs Office

A woman in the Alemia sewing shop works on a sewing machine to create a new garment, June 5.  (U.S. Army photo by
A woman in the Alemia sewing shop works on a sewing machine to create a new garment.  (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Kevin Stabinsky)

ARAB JABOUR, Iraq (June 10, 2008) – She wears a head scarf and long robe covering her from shoulder to toe; only her hands and face are visible. Yet despite her traditional clothing, Maha Aziz Abass Al-Jabouri is working hard to cast aside the stereotypical role of women in the Arab Jabour region.

Abass, a language teacher at the al-Hamza School, is one of several women in the village of Alemia who work to empower women in the area.

“Before, our future was farming. Now we want jobs like the women in the city,” Abass said.

As the Rasheed Women’s Council representative from Alemia, Abass is striving to realize that dream.

Establishing the women’s council was one of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division’s most important accomplishments in the area, said 1st Lt. Charles Staab, from Novi, Mich.

Staab, a platoon leader in Company A, 1st Battalion, 30th Infantry Regiment, said starting the council was a remarkable achievement, marking something women had never done there before.

“The importance lies in being a part of what’s happening,” he said. “They can either watch what is happening or be a part of it, and they are choosing to be a part.”

Through involvement in the council, these women are getting the Iraqi government to work to provide a better life for them. The improved security infrastructure in the area has provided the Iraqi government with a stronger foothold into helping its people.

“Before, when the bad guys were here, the government would not help. Now (the government is) giving money to make the area better,” Abass said.

Abass, like many women in the area, was widowed because of insurgent violence, her husband killed by al-Qaida terrorists, leaving her to raise her three sons and two daughters alone.

Now, new opportunities are available, giving hope to Abass and others like her.

Businesses catering to women are opening up, thanks to a combination of funding from coalition forces and the government of Iraq. A women’s sewing shop has already opened in Alemia.

Abass hopes the Iraqi government will continue to support women’s initiatives and create more opportunities. In her opinion, training in both health care and literacy are needed.

“I want my kids to get a better education,” Abass said. “I hope my daughters go to college and become engineers like their aunt.”

Her sister, Suha Azit, a computer engineer, is also doing her part to empower women in the area. In addition to her regular job, Azit has opened up her own business, with the help of a grant from the Iraqi government.

Azit said she has always had an interest in fashion. She is hoping to turn this interest into income through a beauty shop she opened two weeks ago.

“At age eight I was watching other women being made beautiful and fell in love with the idea,” Azit said of her inspiration to open the shop. Her shop offers women the latest makeup, hair styles and fashions from catalogs.

Just as she once worked as an apprentice at a beauty shop, Azit is now employing another woman to learn the trade. In the mornings, when Azit is working as an engineer, her apprentice takes care of the shop.

The new kinds of work women are doing in Arab Jabour sends a message that women are valuable members of the community with much to contribute, Staab said. Empowering women also sends a strong message to al-Qaida members who once operated in the area.

“Women moving independently from their homes into the work force and also meeting openly … is showing their defiance toward al-Qaida, and shows their independence in this nation,” Staab said.