Qaraqosh Women Call Out the Gender Gap in Marketing

Speeches Shim

Thursday, January 21, 2021
Participants participate in an activity during the USAID-funded "Maharati" course
Fatin Putrus of Re:Coded

A group of women in Qaraqosh sat together in a room discussing their frustrations with the way companies market their products. “Males do not have a problem of insecurity and lack of confidence compared to females. We need them to pay attention to us, too,” expressed Nora*, a participant in the Life and Digital Skills livelihoods program funded by USAID.  It was agreed that companies could do a better job of including women in their messaging and marketing campaigns.

The USAID-funded Life and Digital Skills program, also known as the “Maharati” course, meaning “my skills” in Arabic, offered 27 women in Qaraqosh an unconventional opportunity to develop digital marketing, graphic design, and photography skills. Implemented by Re:Coded, the intensive digital skills training course took a gender-sensitive approach by incorporating gender equality themes into the training sessions and using gender-sensitive language and gender-aware activities throughout the course.

The “Maharati” course began with a ten-week, graphic design training, providing the students with the essential tools and skills to think like designers. The women improved their visual literacy and learned to think critically about design and how it applies to real world examples.

Following the ten-week course, participants chose from two specialization options: Digital Marketing or Photography. 

Thirteen women joined the five-week course in Digital Marketing Specialization where they learned about the fundamentals of digital marketing, targeting audiences, decision making, and content creation. They observed, analyzed, and critiqued Iraqi marketing and advertising from a gender-sensitive perspective for different services and products they saw every day and began to question the gendered implications of how products and services were marketed. 

As they analyzed messages conveyed to women, they became more aware of the power of marketing to influence people’s minds and attitudes about social and gender issues, especially those related to women and their roles in society.

“When an advertisement speaks to young men, they are suggesting he is young and hip and has a social life. But for young women, the message is usually about protection and safety. We also go out and have a social life, so why are they not advertising to us in the same way?” said one of the participants. 

The participants applied a gender lens as a regular part of how they analyzed marketing examples throughout the course both as users and designers. The students observed that while some companies in Iraq target women exclusively, they also noticed that companies, which have traditionally targeted men, have continued to ignore their female audiences despite the expansion of women’s roles in Iraqi society. 

By the end of the course, students not only felt empowered through their enhanced digital literacy but also through their new skills, which many looked forward to using to apply for jobs. “It’s quite powerful to gather as a group of Iraqi women and analyze social media content together. It’s even more powerful when the students realize that this is a viable career path,” said Khadijah Abdul Nabi, the “Maharati” Course Design Lead.

The city of Qaraqosh was once home to Iraq’s largest Christian community. ISIS militants swept through the city in 2014 and spent the next two years destroying all signs of Christianity in the city, burning and destroying churches, statues, and all reminders of this once-thriving community. In 2016, Qaraqosh was liberated by the Iraqi army, though residents were hesitant to return due to ongoing security concerns and lack of livelihood opportunities. Women in particular struggled to find educational or professional opportunities that offered skills training outside of more traditional gendered livelihood options, such as embroidery or knitting.  

The “Maharati” course was a component of USAID’s innovative livelihoods pilot implemented under the Genocide Recovery and Persecution Response (GRPR) program, which offered women returnees an unconventional opportunity to learn skills related to digital marketing, graphic design and photography. 

Over the duration of the course, the graduates developed a unique perspective on their career outlooks ranging from entrepreneurship to the pursuit of further education in Graphic Design, Photography and Digital Marketing. Despite family obligations and a lack of opportunities in the Qaraqosh market, most of the women who participated in the program have expressed their determination to continue developing their design skills and starting their own businesses in the future.

In addition to the skills training, once they graduated from the program, the women engaged in individual career guidance and employment webinars in Stock Photography, Freelancing as Graphic Designers and Time Management, which provided them with tools and mentors who could guide them in their careers.

When asked where they saw themselves in a year, one graduate said, “I need to study and learn more. I have been looking at different videos online and downloaded programs to study. The more I study, the more I can become creative and the more I can move faster with getting my ideas out into something beautiful. After this course I am more confident that I will be able to open and develop my own small business in the future.”


Last updated: May 10, 2022

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