In the northern Iraqi city of Halabja, women’s work has taken on a different dimension recently. Every Wednesday the city holds a special “women’s market” where local females can sell goods and foods they have produced themselves.
The market takes place between 10 in the morning and four in the afternoon in a central city park. The first one took place on March 8 and proved so popular that it has become a weekly event, says Sundus Hassan, who heads the special committee that was created to administer the market sellers.
Around 20 women currently sell their wares at the weekly market and Hassan says many more have applied to join. “We will support any woman from in Halabja who has a skill and who wants to participate,” Hassan outlines the necessary criteria.
On sale are things like hand knitted items cosmetics, herbs, bread and a special Kurdish dish made of dough, onions and spices.
The women have also been known to produce new things out of recycled waste.
“In this way, we are protecting the environment,” Hassan explains. “More importantly, recycled goods are becoming a source of income for the women.”
“The effort made by these women is so wonderful,” says Hawraman Mohammed, one of the customers browsing in the market on the day NIQASH visited. “It is unique and it makes me happy.”
Mohammed says he just came to take a look and to drink some tea but that he would return next week and make some purchases.
“It’s so different here and it feels relaxed,” added Roseanne Nasser, another market shopper who says she was here with friends and that she had purchased some tools. “We have decided to come again next week too,” she noted.
“Most of the girls participating here are graduates or students who have yet to find a job,” says Nakhsheen Namaq, who has been at the market selling the bread that she makes herself. “It is a great opportunity for all of us to meet and be productive. I graduated six years ago but I haven’t been able to find a good job,” she notes, “That’s why I’m here selling bread.”
Part of the reason that the collective has been able to establish the market in the city is because two of its members are senior politicians in the Halabja. The city has a female mayor, Nuxsha Naseh, and she is on the committee.
The other committee member is Kwesten Akram, the head of the municipality. Akram says that when the collective asked if they could use the public park she said yes immediately.
“In addition to the park, there is also an empty lot next to the Halabja municipality buildings that we would also like to give to the collective, so they can establish a permanent space there,” Akram added.
Prices at the market have been set lower on purpose, organizer Hassan says. “In the past market sellers would buy our products at a lower price and then sell them on, with a higher margin,” Hassan explains. “Now we are selling everything ourselves with no middle men. Our profits have increased.”