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Iraqi grandmother defies tradition to set up shop

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Iraqi grandmother defies tradition to set up shop

When widow Lamia Abid was driven from home, she set up a shop in a camp for internally displaced people and become her family's main breadwinner.
8 March 2016
Enterprising grandmother Lamia Abid stands outside her stall in Asia camp in southern Baghdad, Iraq.

BAGHDAD, Iraq, March 8 (UNHCR) - Forty-year-old Iraqi grandmother Lamia Abid never saw herself as an entrepreneur. She was a housewife back home and had never even thought of working.

But after the death of her husband two years ago and the family's forced relocation to Baghdad to escape from extremist forces in her home town of Ramadi, Lamia used some creative thinking to adapt to her new situation and opened a store.

Recognizing a niche market offering simple treats to the 128 other displaced families living in Asia Camp, in Al-Dorah neighbourhood in southern Baghdad, she set up a stall selling snacks and biscuits beside her UNHCR-installed shelter.

"This is the only shop in the camp," she says proudly of the stall she opened about a year ago, which caters mostly to children. "I didn't want to beg or take things from others. They have their own problems. I just wanted to be able to rely on myself and look after my family," she said.

The theme of International Women's Day - which is today - is achieving global gender parity. Lamia's small stand covered with plastic sheeting, has helped her go a long way toward achieving financial independence and to step up to the role of being the provider for her family - traditionally a role filled by men.

Her shop turns over US$45-70 a day. On some days, she said has had more than 100 customers. Lamia said children would pass by on their way to school to make their purchases. But that is not all. As the weather is getting warmer, she is thinking ahead and wants to buy ice creams and lollies to sell.

The challenge she now has is to raise funds to buy a large refrigerator. She does not have the money right now, as her income has been spent on stocking the shop, feeding her family and buying a small television and a tiny fridge. Her remaining assets - her wedding ring and other gold jewelry - were sold off long ago.

While Lamia's married son sometimes manages to get odd jobs, the responsibility of looking after her 70-year-old mother falls to her. In fact, her income helps her to provide for a total of nine family members, including her four grandchildren.

"Thank goodness I have this job," Lamia said. "Many people have been curious and asked me how I managed to do this. A lot of people have said I am doing a good job in being able to support my family like this. But some people are jealous; they cannot understand how I got my idea and am managing to make some money. They even tell their children not to buy from me!"

"But I don't care what other people say," she said, revealing determination to push ahead with her role as the family's principal provider. "This job helps me to support my family with honour and dignity."

To see a photo gallery paying tribute to the strength and resilience of women refugees click here.

By Caroline Gluck in Baghdad, Iraq