When Janat Mohammed’s mother died around seven months ago, she was depressed for a long time. In trying to fill up her spare time and cope with the grief Mohammed decided to freshen up her own home, sewing covers for beds and other furniture.
“But the furniture in the living room was old and I wanted to change that too,” explains the 30-year-old mother of three from Diwaniyah. “But when I went to an upholsterer he gave me such a high price that I decided to try and do it myself.”
With the help of some female relatives, Mohammed completed the job: She enjoyed it and found it affordable and easy. And that is how she became one of the only female furniture makers in Iraq.
There are few women, especially in the relatively conservative southern city, who would enter a traditionally masculine occupation like this – but Mohammed was willing. Mohammed has always been an independent woman.
Her husband supports her in this, having shown her how to fix things at home by herself – work that is traditionally left to the man of the household in Iraq. When she did not have the right tools to start the job, her husband lent them to her and encouraged her.
Since then she has been able to buy the needed equipment with the money she has earned. “The only real challenge was the physical strength that one needs at times,” Mohammed told NIQASH. “I have tasted the sweetness of success and I am proud of my achievements.”
Having reorganized her time to cater for her family and professional commitments, Mohammed set to work. She and her team of two other women have since made more than 100 sets of furniture, with each set taking about three days each to complete.
Old furniture is resurfaced before being reupholstered. “It’s a tiresome job,” Mohammed admits. “But it doesn’t take us long.” By offering lower-than-average prices – between US$150 and US$200 – and delivering on time, Mohammed has been able to gain a foothold in the local market.
Her customers, often other women, also like her taste, she says, when she suggests colours or certain fabrics for their furnishings. Mohammed promotes her work on social media like Facebook. “At the start the response was slow because people didn’t believe that a woman could do this work,” Mohammed says.
“But I was confident I could succeed and I started to publish pictures of our completed work. That’s when we began to get more customers.” If things continue to go well, in the future Mohammed would like to move to a workshop away from her own home; she also wants to buy modern machinery and she would like to employ more local women.
“Iraqi women are strong and capable of doing all kinds of jobs,” she argues. “Women need to resist being stereotyped as weak creatures. When they have the willpower, women can do anything – they just need to learn how.”
by Manar al-Zubaidi