In a country where the battle for women’s rights has been so long and hard-fought, it can be easy to forget that Iraq is on the cusp of a new era. But it is—and that’s great news for women in tech.
Women in technology have been historically underrepresented in the industry. Ranking 154 out of 156 countries on the global gender gap index, Iraq is no exception. But in recent years, there has been a push to promote diversity and inclusion in the workplace. Despite facing cultural and systemic barriers, more and more women are entering the tech industry and making significant contributions.
From bridging the gender gap in a male-dominated industry to infusing fresh perspectives and driving innovation, women in technology are taking the lead in propelling Iraq’s economy forward. With research showing that diverse teams outperform homogeneous ones, it’s high time to support the female tech trailblazers who are making a meaningful impact in the country.
The challenges women in tech face in Iraq are not much different than those faced by women around the world. According to UNESCO, 26.4% of Iraqi women are illiterate, with the percentage believed to be much higher in rural areas, reaching up to 50%. There is a lack of support for female entrepreneurs, and there is still a lot of work to be done to ensure that all Iraqi women have equal access to education and employment opportunities.
As Iraq continues on its path toward progress and development, it’s clear that women in tech will play a critical role in shaping the country’s future. By celebrating these trailblazers, we can help to build a more inclusive and prosperous society for all.
Dr. Nadia Al-Aboody
Let’s begin with Maysan, the governorate with the lowest rate of female primary school students in Iraq, where lives Dr. Nadia Al-Aboody. Nadia is a trailblazer in the tech industry in Maysan, where women are still underrepresented in the field. As the head of the Department of Computer Systems Technologies at the Southern Technical University in Maysan, Nadia is working to break down barriers and encourage more women to pursue careers in tech.
I started my volunteering and civic work in 2007 and my focus has been and continues to be on building women’s capacities for intellectual and economic independence.Dr Nadia Al-Aboody
In addition to her work at the Technical Institute, Nadia is also the founder of Code Club Iraq, a programming club for young people in Maysan. The club has been so successful that it has expanded to other parts of Iraq and is an official partner of the Raspberry Pi Foundation.
However, Nadia faces many challenges in her work, including financial support and the lack of opportunities for women in Maysan.
“Every achievement to date depends on our effort. In addition to the fact that the idea is new and the training we offer is very modern, it is difficult for parents to absorb it and know its importance. Therefore, we need an additional effort to explain these details,” she says.
She is determined to overcome these challenges and create more opportunities for women in tech in Iraq.
Dr Nadia’s work is critical, as technology is becoming increasingly important for economic development and innovation. She continues to lead the way for women in tech and inspires a new generation of Iraqi women to follow in her footsteps.
“Iraqi women are capable of contributing to the development of the country in different fields, especially in the field of technology. Our work is important to encourage young women to develop their skills in technology and provide them with the necessary support to achieve their goals,” says Nadia.
Shahad Noaman is a true pioneer, a woman who has overcome multiple obstacles to become a leading figure in the Iraqi tech industry. Shahad’s journey to success began after she graduated in 2015 from the College of Electronics and Communication Engineering at Baghdad University. Despite being a highly qualified graduate, she struggled to find a job in her field. Unwilling to let her skills go to waste, Shahad began working as a lecturer at her university while also pursuing additional courses and certificates in network engineering.
Despite her passion and dedication, Shahad mentioned that she faced discrimination from some of her male peers in the tech industry. “There were times when managers underestimated my abilities in front of my male colleagues. But I refused to let their comments discourage me, and I worked hard to prove myself,” she says.
Shahad’s entrepreneurial spirit led her to create her own business, AutoCare, a mobile application for booking car washing and maintenance services.
With the help of a training and mentoring program called Raaidat, she was able to launch AutoCare, which has been operating as a booth in The Station and will soon offer delivery services.
Shahad highlights the need for more support and opportunities for women in technology. “There are many talented women in Iraq who have the potential to excel in tech, but they need more guidance and mentorship to realise their dreams,” she says. She hopes to inspire and encourage more women in tech and entrepreneurship through her work and initiatives.
Mosul, Ninevah, located in northern Iraq, is a city that has been ravaged by war and conflict in recent years. Despite the challenges, a growing number of women are defying societal expectations and pursuing careers in technology. This is where Zainab Azzam has broken barriers and has defied societal expectations within the industry’s male-dominated culture, to build a thriving community of technologists in the city.
“When I was a little girl, I was obsessed with computers. I would spend long hours in front of the screen, playing video games and trying to figure out other uses of computers,” said Zainab. Despite facing many challenges and biases as a woman in the industry, she persevered and pursued her passion for programming.
Zainab launched the Google Developers Group in Mosul to bridge the gap between aspiring technologists and the knowledge and resources necessary to succeed. “My idea initially was to create a community of people who are interested in technology and want to learn more and develop themselves,” she explained. The group offers a range of courses and online sessions on topics such as data science, machine learning, and networks, as well as networking opportunities with other GDG communities around the world.
However, Zainab also recognises that there are unique challenges that women face in the industry, particularly in terms of training and support.
Through her work, she is striving to provide advanced and more suitable courses to the needs of women in Mosul.
Zainab’s ultimate goal is to see more women take the lead in the technology and entrepreneurship ecosystem in Iraq. “I believe that women have a lot of potentials to contribute to the industry, and we need to create more opportunities for them,” she emphasised. Her dedication to empowering women in the field is an inspiration to many and a reminder of the importance of diversity and inclusivity in the tech industry.
Khadijah Abdul-Nabi, a successful Iraqi woman in tech based in Erbil, is an inspiration to many aspiring women in the industry. She regularly and openly shares her journey toward success, her challenges as a woman in the field, and her goals for the future.
“I studied fine arts in New York City and then pursued Middle Eastern Studies at Barnard College, Columbia University,” Khadijah shares. “But upon turning 30, I realised my passion for graphic design and opened my studio, Ya Khadijah, specialising in branding.”
Khadijah’s passion for communication beyond language constraints led her to design, where she finds great interest in user experience and design with a specific user in mind. As a woman in the industry, Khadijah admits to facing the usual challenges, but believes that being a woman in this industry is an advantage, stating: “women think and collaborate differently, which helps us excel in the industry.”
Ya Khadijah, Khadijah’s creative studio, is named after Khadijah (RA), the successful businesswoman who was the wife of the Prophet (SAW). The studio specialises in branding and aims to interpret and curate culture to impact the SWANA region through identity.
When asked about her goals for the future, Khadijah replies, “My goals for the future are simple: Ya Khadijah as a studio impacts culture in the SWANA region specifically through identity.”
Khadijah believes that there are already many successful women in tech in Iraq and Kurdistan, but they need to be more visible and vocal to inspire more women to pursue tech as a career. “We need them to be more visible, more vocal, and more active. A little more connection and collaboration so that women in tech is a normal sentence and not one that indicates scarcity,” she emphasises.
Voices from the Outside
Diana Alsindy is one of Iraq’s most successful women in technology, with a passion for breaking down gender barriers in her field. She was the first Iraqi woman to work in rocket science at NASA.
When asked about the moment she decided to enter the field of technology, Diana shared, “I was always interested in science fields, and it wasn’t until I moved to the US that I read a story about a woman who is working on a Mars habitable project with NASA. I thought it was cool and exciting that a young female was working on a science project with a major space agency.”
However, Diana also recognises the challenges that women in Iraq and the Arabian region face when trying to enter the technology industry.
A lot of women face sexism and old stereotypes that shouldn’t exist anymore. Entering this field in universities is challenging due to family customs, and the work environment is man-dominated which makes women feel out of place and not belongDiana Alsindy
Despite these challenges, Diana is determined to help more women enter the technology industry. She believes that the SWANA region cannot become a tech hub without the contribution of everyone, including women.
Diana encourages aspiring Iraqi women to pursue their passions saying, “We need passionate women who are determined to be pioneers in their fields. The most successful people are the ones who are authentic, passionate, and hardworking.”
As a successful Iraqi woman in technology, Diana serves as a role model for others hoping to follow in her footsteps. She encourages more women to join the tech industry, saying, “We need to push past the societal norms and pave the way for more women to enter the field. The future of technology lies in our ability to collaborate and push boundaries together.”