An Iraqi furniture maker busts stereotypes

With a hammer and saw, Nour al-Janabi crafts her latest creation, a sweet-pink sofa, in the carpentry workshop she runs in male-dominated, conservative Iraq.

“At first, relatives criticized me,” said the 29-year-old carpenter and furniture maker, who is also a mother of four.

“They would say, ‘But you’re a woman…you’re an amateur…it’s a man’s trade.'”

The sofas and armchairs she designs, makes, and repairs in her workshop south of Baghdad, covered in velvet or imitation leather, pass from rustic to Louis XV.

Its order book is full, with new halls starting at 700,000 dinars (about $480).

Al-Janabi has been in the furniture industry for several years, and started her own business, Nour Carpentry, a few months ago. She recently moved operations from her home to a house-turned-workshop, where she has four employees — one of whom is her retired husband.

“But it is not right to say it like this,” she said with an embarrassed smile, her veil covering her hair.

In oil-rich Iraq, women make up just 13.3 percent of the workforce, according to the World Bank, while the World Economic Forum ranked the country 154th out of 156 in its latest global report on the gender gap.

A study published last year by two UN agencies noted that while most Iraqis consider higher education to be equally important to men and women, “attitudes toward equal rights in employment are discriminatory against women.”

Iraqi carpenter Nour al-Janabi displays a piece in her furniture workshop in Baghdad’s Abu Dashir district, November 13, 2022 (Photo by Sabah Arar/AFP)

– ‘You are proud of Iraq’ –

Al-Janabi largely attributes her success to the do-it-yourself tutorials she first posted on Facebook sharing her passion for carpentry and furniture making.

She uploads videos—about everything from how to re-stitch an old sofa to using a sander—to TikTok and Instagram, too, where she has more than 94,000 followers.

“I am the first Iraqi woman to do this trade and break the barrier in this field,” she claimed, in a country still largely dominated by conservative attitudes about the role of women in society, and where those who are seen as too independent are sometimes viewed as alienated. They are immoral. .

She said she receives comments from men and women telling her, “You are making Iraq proud and you have accomplished something.”

“May God give you strength and health!” One user commented on a video of Al Janabi presenting a sofa decorated with floral patterns.

One of her clients, Abu Sajjad, went to see how his sofa repairs were going—undisturbed by the prejudices some others might have against dealing with a carpenter and landlady.

Also read: Deadly attacks on women are increasing sharply in Iraq

Most working women in Iraq work as teachers or nurses, although a small number have joined the police or armed forces.

Angham Al-Tamimi is one of them, who this year became the first woman to lead the army.

In a video clip broadcast by the army’s press service, she said that she “faced the non-acceptance of women in the army.”

But she said she succeeded thanks to her “persistence” and “passion”.

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