By Army Spc. Stephanie Cassinos
Special to American Forces Press Service
Aug. 6, 2009 - Iraqi women discussed opportunities in business development and contracting with U.S. soldiers and contractors during a meeting at Basra Airport in Iraq. The conference highlighted opportunities with Joint Contracting Command Iraq's women-owned business initiative, a program that reserves Defense Department contracts for businesses primarily owned by women.
"The target audience for the conference was educated women, because contracting normally deals with a huge scope of work that requires specialties in engineering and business management," explained Army Capt. Ann Demapan, a women's initiatives coordinator with Multinational Division South. "Programs like these can prove to both men and women that women are competitive and competent in almost any field of work."
Jasim al-Sarraf, a business development consultant with Regional Contracting Center Basra, noted that most contractors in Iraq are men. "We know for sure that there are many educated women in this society," he said. "The university is pumping students out every year. They need jobs. They need income. And if they don't have it, they'll end up sitting at home."
Civil affairs and contractors help Iraqi women by introducing business opportunities. They also train them on becoming a Defense Department-contracted company, from filling out paperwork to learning contracting rules and ethics.
"It's our job to find them, get them out, encourage them to have a company, show them the way to do it, and train them," Sarraf said.
In 2008, the command awarded 4 percent of its contracts to women-owned businesses, totaling $187 million. Adding on to past successes, this year, the aspirations are even higher.
"Joint Contracting Command Iraq has made it a goal to award 10 percent of its contracts to women contractors," Demapan said. "Women contractors will only compete amongst other women contractors. Past contracts done by women contractors resulted in quality, professional work."
Both Sarraf and Demapan said they believe the conference was beneficial for the women who attended.
"My objective is first encouraging them, stimulating them," Sarraf said, "then to give them a general idea about the contracts, and tell them that 'We are here to help you.'"
Demapan said the women were eager for details, and many asked how to fill out contractor applications. "And even before the conference took place, 40 women contractors applied to [the command] to be added into their database system of contractors."
Iraqi women at the conference also expressed a desire to give back to their communities.
"Some of the women were very passionate in wanting to help other women in rural areas," Demapan said. "Some spoke of outreach programs concerning health care and humanitarian assistance for women in rural areas."
Demapan said she hopes to help women understand how their roles as business owners can offer Iraq even more than economic development.
"The ladies and I share a commonality, in that we are mothers," Demapan said. "Mothers only want the best provided for their children. That entails building a strong Iraq for their children.
"I wanted to convey to them that all Iraqis -- men and women -- have a stake in the future of Iraq," she continued, "[and] that the women of Iraq need ... to be recognized as major players in policy-making and decision-making for their motherland."
(Army Spc. Stephanie Cassinos serves in Multinational Division South.)