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Livelihoods: Afra's* Story


Business women in Iraq received start-up grants and practical training on business skills to restart their life after years of conflict.


29 September 2022, Gina Meutia and Munir Mahmood


*Name has been changed and some details omitted for protection reasons


In the wake of the Islamic State-led conflict, many men, who were the primary breadwinners of families throughout Iraq, were killed. This consequently resulted in women being left as widows with no prospect of gaining employment, and had no access to medical and psychological support. Those with children often could not afford to send their children to school.

Life for women-headed households in Tuz Khurmato town remains challenging even after the country’s liberation from the occupation of the Islamic State. Many of whom had lost their husbands, were forced into poverty and left unable to provide for their children. “I lost my husband during the war. We had no means to escape at the time because we did not have any money. I have been responsible to provide for my two children and my mother.” When the situation further deteriorated, Afra was forced to take her mother and her children to flee to a displacement camp in Kirkuk governorate. She had to save what little money she could make from doing casual labour in an agricultural field nearby, before she could afford the transport cost she required to take her family to safety.


“Following a very difficult time, by chance, a neighbour mentioned to me that there was an opportunity to apply to take part in a project implemented by HRF which offers support to micro, small and medium business owners. I’ve decided to apply using a business plan I’ve developed for a small clothing shop, based on my general understanding on how to communicate with women and on basic marketing skills.”

Afra along with 200 of her peers managed to have their business plans approved and subsequently received business grants. Along with the provision of business grants, they also took part in a number of sessions of intensive business training courses. These sessions cover important skills from accounting and bookkeeping to communication, marketing and negotiation.

With support from UNDP in partnership with HRF, women and other vulnerable individuals who have returned to their areas of origin, or who are currently displaced, have received vocational training, business skill training and business grants to help them become self-reliant. “With knowledge shared during the training, I was able to launch an online marketing of my products. This online marketing has been very detrimental for me to start getting customers interested in the products I am offering” said Afra

The livelihood support interventions are being offered through the Supporting Livelihoods and Economic Reintegration in the Return Communities project, implemented by UNDP through partnership with HRF and funded by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), provided through KFW Development Bank. The project provides support on community-based initiatives and awareness raising sessions, as well as vocational training and enterprise support packages for new and existing businesses. Through this project, which ran from June 2021 and ends this month, 2,600 vulnerable returnees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) benefited from a range of livelihood-enhancing activities, including business skills training and grants of up to USD 3,500 per person. From engagement between returnee/IDP households with the host community households, the interventions promoted social cohesion amongst the targeted communities.

“I would like to thank HRF for offering me this support”, said Afra. “This changed my life, and I am now able to provide for my family”, she added confidently.

Afra, like all of her peers who have also benefited from taking part in this project, feels like she has turned a corner and managed to rebuild her life. “Nothing is impossible, I feel like I am a resilient woman and I am confident that when provided with the right support, I can ensure a good future for my children,” said Afra, before we ended our interview.


For over 30 years, HRF has continued to help deliver assistance to millions of people across Iraq, including returnees/IDPs who are struggling to cope with the effects of conflict. HRF has cultivated varied networks with communities across Iraq through its project work. The Supporting Livelihoods and Economic Reintegration in the Return Communities project is one of a few parallel projects being implemented by UNDP through partnership with HRF.


UNDP is the leading United Nations organisation fighting to end the injustice of poverty, inequality, and climate change. Working with our broad network of experts and partners in 170 countries, we help nations to build integrated, lasting solutions for people and the planet. Learn more at or follow at @UNDP.

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