In June, we launched a program called WLIFT with our field partner Relief International in Iraq and the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women. We had one goal: To help women business owners in the country get the funding they need to grow their businesses and incomes -- and hire more people in their communities. 

Small businesses are at the heart of healthy economic growth. And this is especially true in Iraq right now. What really inspires us, however, is just how truly phenomenal the women posted as Kiva borrowers through Relief International are. Just consider the statistics: 

  • Only 14% of Iraqi women are employed or actively seeking employment, versus 73% of men. The disparity is even higher in urban areas, according to the U.N.
  • At the same time, due to instability in the region, 10% of households are headed by women who are solely responsible for supporting their families.
  • Only 2% of these women breadwinners are employed or have a steady salary. This makes these women and their families especially vulnerable to poverty.
  • Unemployment stems from inequality in education: 28.2% of women over age 12 are illiterate in Iraq, and this is higher for younger women. Only 44% of women make it to secondary school.
Given this context, women who have succeeded in running their own businesses are already huge successes. They have beaten the odds and inspire change. They also have a real chance of changing attitudes of gender discrimination by gaining more influence in their communities. All they need is the funding to keep going and growing. When they have the capital to work with, there's proof these women hire people in their local communities, invest in their families, and help change the perception of women.

You can do your part today. Three of these incredible women have just been posted to be funded on the Kiva website

Meet ShireenShe runs a kindergarten and child care service.

Shireen experienced the lack of child care options in her community firsthand. Working as a teacher in 2003, she was unable to find care for her young children, and government-provided options were either nonexistent or inadequate. This left many mothers without the option of going to work because they had to stay home to care for their children. 

With very few resources, she opened up her own kindergarten and day care center. Since then, it's grown to three locations. Not only that, she employs over 60 women and 5 drivers. In all, 200 children benefit from the services her business provides. The impact on the community and its women has been immeasurable. But Shireen wants to make sure her business can sustain itself going forward. If she can reach this goal, her next objective is to open an orphanage and provide education services to poor children who really need the help. 

Make a loan to Shireen to keep her school and child care services running today.


This is Shlair, a professional hairdresser who runs her own salon.


Shlair has been cutting and styling hair for nearly 30 years when she opened her own shop. She's known throughout her community for the quality of her work. Her work has been so influential in her own family that both of her daughters have earned their hairdressing certifications too so they can run businesses of their own. In this way, she's been a role model as a business owner, and she dreams to expand her shop and do even more.

She's looking for a $10,000 loan to buy the new special chairs she needs to stay ahead of the curve. Her current chairs are old and often break -- this limits the number of customers she can reach. She'd also like to expand her inventory and diversify her income by selling cosmetics. When she has the resources, Shlair wants to establish a teaching institute so that other young women in her area can learn her trade and start their own businesses. 

Make a loan to Shlair to get her one step closer to opening her own salon school for Iraqi women today.


Meet Ibtisam, owner of her own clothing and merchandise store.

Ibtisam is three years into her clothing business and is confident in growing it even more. At age 48, she's divorced, raising her four children on her own. Her family's only support comes from her business. Her shop specializes in clothing for women and children, providing a safe environment for women to gather, shop and socialize. Many of her customers are single women themselves.

Now she's looking for a loan to expand her inventory and raise its quality. Her goal is to provide a better shopping experience for the women she serves, and maybe eventually be able to hire a few who need employment. 

Make a loan to Ibtisam and support her growing clothing store today

These are just three of the inspiring women on Kiva as part of our WLIFT program. You can find and fund even more by clicking here!

Have questions about how you can do more for women business owners in Iraq? Send them our way at

About the author

Camille Ricketts

Camille brings her passion for storytelling to Kiva, where she helps create and curate online content. A longtime journalist, she started her career reporting on arts and culture for the Wall Street Journal in London and New York. In 2008, she joined San Francisco-based blog VentureBeat, writing about  green technology, policy and finance. Most recently, she worked in public relations for electric vehicle maker Tesla Motors. Outside of work, Camille volunteers as a web designer for maternal health nonprofit Saving Mothers. She holds a B.A. in women's history from Stanford University, where she also served as editor in chief of The Stanford Daily.