Iraq: Online portal opens doors for women in business

23 December 2022

The country’s online system is making it easier for women entrepreneurs to access the benefits of registering their company with the government.

© International Labour Organization | An Iraqi entrepreneur develops her business idea.

Saja al-Bayati has been fascinated by information technology and news since she can remember.

While pursuing a master’s degree in computer engineering, she merged her tech and cyber-security interests with a budding freelance journalism career to start digital awareness campaigns – beginning a journey that would combine her two passions into a business endeavour.

“The field of information technology in Iraq is quite important. We have high rates of digital illiteracy – and that can put people at risk,” Ms. al-Bayati says.

The 29-year-old from Baghdad now runs a company of security experts that keeps people and organizations safe from cyberattacks.

“I help protect individuals and institutions from hacking, and drive awareness on how to protect private, confidential information,” she says.

When Ms. al-Bayati registered her company, Al-Baydaq (Pawn) Information Technology, with the government in October 2022, she found the process much easier than expected thanks to a new online registration portal.

From 35 steps to a few clicks

On 8 November 2021, the Iraqi government set up – an online “single window” for business registration – with support from UNCTAD, the United States government and the Global Entrepreneurship Network, a non-profit organization.

The portal simplifies a process that used to entail 35 steps and long hours waiting in line at different government offices. Ms. al-Bayati was able to register her company in just a few clicks and in a matter of minutes.

“I submitted all my papers and paid the registration fees online without needing a lawyer,” she says. “It was the first government e-service I ever experienced, and it was great.”

Unlocking important benefits

According to a recent joint UNDP report, Iraq’s private sector, which accounts for 40% to 50% of employment, is mainly informal. And women in the country generally face more hurdles than men to own a formal business because of social and cultural norms.

By not registering their business with the government, women entrepreneurs miss out on important benefits, like limited personal liability, tax incentives, access to loans and the ability to build a company brand.

This could also put employees at a disadvantage, as workers in the informal sector often have less job security and social protection.

Fast-tracking women’s entrepreneurial ambitions

The Iraqi government invested in the portal to make it easier for everyone in the country to do business – so far almost 3,000 entrepreneurs have used it to register their company.

“It is a moment to be proud and demonstrates that e-registration is a critical empowerment tool,” says Frank Grozel, head of UNCTAD's business facilitation programme.

The portal has shown that a good one-stop shop for business registration can help women accelerate their entrepreneurial ambitions. More than 150 women entrepreneurs have had similar experiences to Ms. al-Bayati.

These include Asmaa Hussain Mohammed, who registered Twilight Brightness (سطوع الشفق), a printing, marketing, events and logistics company; Sanaa Abdel Rahim Shakeel, who used the portal to formalize her clothes importing business, Qobat Al Iraq ( قبة العراق) General Trading Limited Liability; and Baida Imran Musa, who registered Al Hayat ( الحياة), an airfield and ground services company.

“As women in society, we need the government's support to operate at optimum,” Ms. Musa says.

So far, women have accounted for 7% of those registering their business through the portal since its launch. Jonathan Ortmans, president of the Global Entrepreneurship Network, expects the share to grow as awareness of the single window increases.

“The data, especially over the past two months, proves that digital government is removing a fundamental barrier to entrepreneurship, especially among those traditionally left out of economic activity,” Mr. Ortmans says.