Women’s Economic Empowerment in the KRI

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Women’s Economic Empowerment in the KRI

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Displacement in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq

The Kurdistan Region of Iraq is currently home to more than 1 million internally displaced Iraqis who have fled conflict in other parts of the country, as well as 250,000 refugees, mainly from Syria.

Most people displaced by these crises will spend many years away from home, so earning money and being able to provide for their families is a key concern. As this is a long-term issue, long-term solutions in livelihood (as well as education and housing) are needed. 

Although women face many obstacles in their ability to engage in livelihood activities, including discrimination, the harsh conditions of conflict and displacement have forced families and communities to allow for women’s engagement in economic activities. 

Women’s increased role as income providers has led to some positive changes in women’s and men’s perceptions of women’s economic roles. However, this change appears to be temporary rather than transformative, meaning that when life goes ‘back to normal’, perceptions of women’s economic position will return to what they were before.

Raja's Story

Raja is a 30-year-old Iraqi Internally Displaced Person with 5 children

Since 2008, Raja has been intermittently displaced by conflict in Iraq. She has been raising her 5 children alone in a camp for internally displaced people in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq since 2015.

Before, women only did housework, there weren’t any jobs or training courses for them – only men worked. Now, here in the camp, women are working and men are staying at home because there is no work for men.”

Research report

Displacement and Women’s Economic Empowerment: Voices of Displaced Women in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq

Women for Women International, in partnership with the LSE Centre for Women, Peace and Security and GAPS, commissioned a research report to examine women’s economic wellbeing and empowerment in the context of conflict-related displacement, focusing on livelihood needs and opportunities. The report provides insights into how displacement has affected the position of women in the economic life of the family and community.

The key contribution of this report is that it reflects the voices of displaced women in the KRI. We conducted in-depth interviews with displaced women to understand their perspectives. The report includes their perceptions of the opportunities and obstacles to their engagement in livelihood activities and how they define 'economic empowerment.' 

Alia's Story

Alia is 41-year-old Syrian refugee with 5 children.

Alia has lived in the Kurdish host community of Sulaymaniyah, Iraq, since 2013 when she fled the war.

“Since my childhood I’ve always wanted to work in a hairdressing salon – that was my real dream. As I hold the hairdryer, I’m motivated to learn. I feel like I have a future ahead.”


International governments and donors should

  1. Ensure livelihood support for women is part of a longer-term approach to supporting women’s economic empowerment.
  2. Support context specific responses to the wide variety of factors that influence women’s livelihood needs.
  3. Provide livelihood support as part of a range of services for women displaced by conflict.
  4. Respond more effectively to the needs of women displaced by conflict. 

Download the full report.

Shireen's Story

Shireen is a 39-year-old Syrian refugee with 4 children

Shireen fled the war in 2014 and has lived in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI) ever since.

Despite having diverse work experience and receiving job training, finding work in the economic crises has proved a challenge. 

“When you see that your children and husband need help, every woman naturally goes into action. There is no room for fear.” 


With thanks to our partners, the women and men who contributed their time and experiences

This report is the product of a partnership between the LSE Centre for Women, Peace and Security, Women for Women International and Gender Action for Peace and Security (GAPS). The Institute for Regional and International Studies at the American University of Iraq-Sulaimani (IRIS-AUIS) provided logistical support. 

We would like to thank everyone involved in this research, especially the internally displaced and refugee women and men who contributed their time and experiences.

We are grateful for support from the Millby Foundation for enabling us to commission this research and share the findings.

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Learn more

The harsh conditions of conflict and displacement in the KRI have forced families and communities to allow women to engage in economic activities. This necessity can be a window of opportunity.


We are working with women in Iraq to help them overcome severe emotional trauma, teach them about their rights, acquire new business and vocational skills, and form networks for support and advocacy.

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