Pandemic restrictions a business boon for some Iraqi women

After Iraq imposed a coronavirus lockdown in March, Fatima is among a growing numbers of Iraqi women who are finding some good under the movement restrictions imposed because of the coronavirus pandemic: They're starting their own businesses from home. (AP)
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Updated 12 January 2021

Pandemic restrictions a business boon for some Iraqi women

  • A growing number of Iraqi women are using pandemic restrictions to establish home-based businesses

BAGHDAD: Fatima Ali was in her final year studying to become a medical analysis specialist when Iraq imposed a full lockdown in March. Forced by a raging pandemic to stay home, she spent her days on social media, looking for something to do with her time.
Then an idea came to her: Six years ago, visiting America on a young leaders exchange program, she and other students toured a Vermont cheese factory where aged cheese platters were displayed on wooden boards so inviting they looked like paintings.
“I liked it … I said to myself, why not be the first to do it in Baghdad?” She took a free online business course and researched cheeses and wooden plates available in the Iraqi capital.
Months later, 22-year-old Ali is successfully marketing her cheese boards, making a small but steady income and garnering over 2,000 Instagram followers.
A growing number of Iraqi women are using pandemic restrictions to establish home-based businesses. It’s a way to bypass discrimination and harassment that often come with working in Iraq’s male-dominated, conservative society — and bring in extra income as the economy worsens.
On a recent day in her kitchen, Ali cut up and arranged cheeses, dried fruit and nuts as she talked about her further dreams. She wants to go to culinary school abroad and one day open a school in Iraq for those “who have passion for cooking, like me.”
“This is just the beginning. I’m still developing myself,” she said. The slogan on her purple T-shirt declared, “You Have to Love Yourself.”
Rawan Al-Zubaidi, a business partner at an Iraqi NGO that supports start-ups and young entrepreneurs, said there’s been a noticeable increase in home-based businesses since the pandemic’s start, including women making food deliveries, sweets, accessories, crocheting and embroidering.
“It represents a solution to obstacles that Iraqi women face when trying to find a job,” she said, citing women whose husbands or fathers won’t let them work, unsupportive male colleagues, discrimination and lack of career growth opportunities.
“Some Iraqi women can’t find a job because conservative families or husbands consider that women talking directly with other men on the job will bring shame on them,” Rawan said.
Women’s labor force participation in Iraq is particularly low. As of 2018, only 12.3% of women of working age were employed or looking for work, according to the United Nations.
Tamara Amir, who manages a Facebook page to educate Iraqi women about their rights, said she receives dozens of calls each day from women facing sexual harassment at work. Often, they report feeling they have to give their male boss “something in return” to get a job or advancement.
Ali’s parents have been supportive of her home-based business, which she says is more secure and means she does not have to go outside and mix with people. Her mother helps her prepare her products, and Ali teamed up with a popular delivery app.
At first, she received two orders a week maximum. Now she can barely keep up with the multiple orders she gets every day.
Mariam Khzarjian, a 31-year-old Iraqi-Armenian, worked as an executive assistant in an engineering company for seven years. She quit in late 2018, feeling her career was going nowhere, and started her own home business selling handmade accessories inspired by her ancestors, who used to work as carpenters.
She called her business Khzar — Armenian for the art of cutting metals and woods — with the slogan “wear a story,” since Khzar designs are based on telling stories and building emotional communication with the clients.
She got off to a slow start. Distractions got in the way. But the pandemic forced her to focus, working on new designs and techniques during curfews. The move toward online shopping helped her business take off in a way she could not have imagined.
“Online became the only way to reach clients, and they in turn became more loyal and more confident about my art, because they are buying something without trying it,” Khzarjian said.
“Corona is terrible, but for those able to take advantage of the Internet and build connections with customers, it had its positive side,” she said.
Sara Al-Nedawi, 23, studied business administration and has tried to find a job for months.
“One day I sent my CV to a company, and they texted me to ask if I was pretty and whether I wear the hijab or not,” she said, referring to the headscarf worn by some Muslim women. Someone from another company she applied to called her to get more information, then told her she has a lovely voice and asked for a photo.
Now she is trying to start a home-based food-catering business but lacks the capital.
“I need to work first to collect enough money,” she said.

Big banks see more than half of staff in office in Q3

Updated 26 February 2021

Big banks see more than half of staff in office in Q3

COPENHAGEN: Global financial institutions plan to have more than half of staff back in offices during the third quarter, up from 10 percent-15 percent now, but none are envisaging a full return anytime soon, the head of Danish services group ISS said on Thursday.

ISS provides services ranging from call centers to office cleaning, catering and security to more than 200,000 companies in 60 countries, including UBS and Deutsche Telekom.

“Many of our customers in banking, consulting and service industries are now very eager to get employees back to the office,” Chief Executive Jacob Aarup-Andersen said in an interview.

“They tell us about lack of innovation, less engagement among employees working from home and the corporate culture suffering,” he said.

But while global banking customers in general expect to have more than 50 percent of employees back on site during the third quarter, none of ISS’ customers are yet speaking about returning 100 percent of the workforce to offices, Aarup-Andersen said.

HSBC said this week it planned to nearly halve its office space globally in a sign the pandemic could mean permanent changes to working patterns, as companies prepare to reduce office space and allow employees more flexibility in working from home.

Aarup-Andersen said earlier he expected office space globally to shrink by 10 percent-15 percent over the next three years.

ISS on Thursday said sales fell 10 percent last year to 69.8 billion Danish crowns ($11.5 billion), hit by weakness in catering, retail and hotel services.


Aston Martin says it is back on the road to profitability

Updated 26 February 2021

Aston Martin says it is back on the road to profitability

  • British carmaker expects ‘to see the first steps toward improved profitability’

LONDON: Aston Martin expects to almost double sales and move back toward profitability this year after sinking deeper into the red in 2020, when the luxury carmaker was hit by the pandemic, changed its boss and was forced to raise cash.

The British company’s shares jumped 9 percent in early Thursday trading after it kept a forecast for around 6,000 sales to dealers this year as new management turns around its performance.

The carmaker of choice for fictional secret agent James Bond has had a tough time since floating in 2018, as it failed to meet expectations and burned through cash, prompting it to seek fresh investment from billionaire Executive Chairman Lawrence Stroll.

The firm made a 466-million pound ($660 million) loss last year, compared with a 120 million pound loss in 2019, as sales to dealers fell by 42 percent to 3,394 vehicles, hit by the closure of showrooms and factories due to COVID-19.


Aston said demand for its first sport utility vehicle, the DBX, which rolled off the production line at its Welsh plant in 2020, was strong in a lucrative segment of the market it entered to widen its appeal.

For 2021, it expects “to see the first steps toward improved profitability” but is still likely to post a pre-tax loss, the carmaker said.

“I am extremely pleased with the progress to date despite operating in these most challenging of times,” Stroll said.

Aston said demand for its first sport utility vehicle, the DBX, which rolled off the production line at its Welsh plant in 2020, was strong in a lucrative segment of the market it entered to widen its appeal.

The model accounted for 1,516 of deliveries to dealers last year and the company expects further growth in its first full-year of sales, including in the key market of China, where rivals such as Bentley are also seeing high demand.

“We had not even a half-year DBX production in wholesome so probably we are going to see over-proportional growth in China,” Chief Executive Tobias Moers, who took over in August, told Reuters.

Diamond tycoon Modi loses bid to avoid extradition to India

Updated 26 February 2021

Diamond tycoon Modi loses bid to avoid extradition to India

  • District Judge Samuel Goozee ruled in London that the fugitive jeweler has a case to answer before the Indian courts

LONDON: Diamond tycoon Nirav Modi lost his bid Thursday to avoid extradition from Britain to India to face allegations he was involved in a $1.8 billion bank fraud.

District Judge Samuel Goozee ruled in London that the fugitive jeweler has a case to answer before the Indian courts. Modi, whose jewels once adorned stars from Bollywood to Hollywood, has been held without bail in London since he was arrested in the capital in 2019.

Goozee ruled that there was enough evidence to prosecute him in his homeland, and dismissed Modi’s argument that he would not be treated fairly in India.

Indian authorities have sought Modi’s arrest since February 2018, when they alleged companies he controlled defrauded the state-owned Punjab National Bank by using fake financial documents to get loans to buy and import jewels.

Modi is also accused of witness intimidation and destroying evidence. Police in India later raided the homes and offices of Modi and business partner Mehul Choksi, seizing nearly $800 million in jewels and gold.

Modi, 49, has refused to submit to extradition to India and denies the fraud allegations. He sought political asylum in the UK

The extradition matter now goes to the UK Home Office, which will make the final decision. Modi has 14 days from that decision to appeal.

Modi, who wore a dark suit for Thursday’s hearing, showed little emotion as he appeared by video link from Wandsworth Prison in southwest London.

Amit Malviya, a spokesman for India’s governing Bharatiya Janata Party, said Thursday’s ruling was “a shot in the arm for the agencies pursuing the fugitive,” adding that the Indian government is committed to “bring all economic offenders to book.”

The son of a diamond merchant, Modi built an international jewelry empire that stretched from India to New York and Hong Kong. Bollywood star Priyanka Chopra became the face of his eponymous brand and Hollywood actress Naomi Watts appeared with Modi at the opening of his first US boutique in 2015.

Forbes magazine estimated Modi’s wealth at $1.8 billion in 2017, but he was removed from the publication’s billionaires’ list after the fraud allegations.

Oil hovers near 13-month highs as storm dents US output

Updated 26 February 2021

Oil hovers near 13-month highs as storm dents US output

  • Severe winter storm in Texas caused US crude production to drop by more than 10 percent

LONDON: Oil prices extended gains for a fourth session on Thursday to reach the highest levels in more than 13 months, underpinned by an assurance that US interest rates will stay low, and a sharp drop in US crude output last week due to the storm in Texas.

Brent crude futures for April gained 33 cents, 0.49 percent, to $67.37 a barrel by 0925 GMT, while US West Texas Intermediate crude for April was at $63.45 a barrel, up 23 cents, 0.36 percent.

Both contracts hit their highest since Jan. 8, 2020, earlier in the session with Brent at $67.70 and WTI at $63.79. The April Brent contract expires on Friday.

An assurance from the US Federal Reserve that interest rates would stay low for a while weakened the US dollar, while boosting investors’ risk appetite and global equity markets.

A severe winter storm in Texas has caused US crude production to drop by more than 10 percent, or 1 million barrels per day (bpd) last week, the Energy Information Administration said on Wednesday.

“Combined with a dovish Jerome Powell and an already tight physical market, oil prices exploded higher,” Jeffrey Halley, senior market analyst for Asia Pacific at OANDA said.

Combined with a dovish Jerome Powell and an already tight physical market, oil prices exploded higher.

Jeffrey Halle, senior market analyst at OANDA

Fuel supplies in the world’s largest oil consumer could also tighten as its refinery crude inputs had dropped to the lowest since September 2008, EIA’s data showed.

ING analysts said US crude stocks could rise in weeks ahead as production has recovered fairly quickly while refinery capacity is expected to take longer to return to normal.

Barclays, which raised its oil price forecasts on Thursday, said it is seeing staying power in the recent oil price rally on a weaker-than-expected supply response by US tight oil operators to higher prices.

“However, we remain cautious over the near term on easing OPEC+ support, risks from more transmissible COVID-19 variants and elevated positioning,” Barclays said.

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and their allies including Russia, a group known as OPEC+, is due to meet on March 4.

The group will discuss a modest easing of oil supply curbs from April given a recovery in prices, OPEC+ sources said, although some suggest holding steady for now given the risk of new setbacks in the battle against the pandemic.

Extra voluntary cuts by Saudi Arabia in February and March have tightened global supplies and supported prices.

Experts discuss WhatsApp’s new privacy update

Updated 26 February 2021

Experts discuss WhatsApp’s new privacy update

  • “People have made this into a bigger issue than it really is”: cybersecurity expert

JEDDAH: As WhatsApp launches a new in-app banner in response to the backlash over its privacy issue, Saudi experts and users weigh in on the company’s strategy.

“Harvesting user data is part of Facebook’s strategy,” Abdullah Al-Gumaijan, cybersecurity expert, told Arab News.

“It seems this will never change, even if it costs them millions of users, like what happened to WhatsApp last month when they updated their policy,” he said. “Today, WhatsApp will force their users to accept a similar policy. However, this time around they made it very clear they will not share users’ actual conversations.”

As long as WhatsApp remains a free app, he added, Facebook will make sure to get what it can from its users’ data.

Fahd Naseem, a WhatsApp user, said: “People have made this into a bigger issue than it really is. Facebook and other social media platforms are already using the data; there’s nothing wrong in WhatsApp using it too.”

He told Arab News that this data helps the apps deliver better and more personalized ads to their users.

Fatimah Al-Maddah, owner of Labothecaire, said that the privacy issue does not concern her and her team. “We use services like Dropbox for sensitive matters, and if we need to discuss something, we normally call. So, we don’t risk our information to begin with.”

WhatsApp will allow users to review its privacy policy, and users will have to agree to the new terms or risk losing access to the app. The firm said that it was facing issues because of “misinformation” regarding the changes, which led users to believe that their information was accessible by WhatsApp’s parent firm, Facebook.

However, WhatsApp said that it would never allow that to happen and that its end-to-end encryption ensures that people on both ends of the conversation are the only ones who can read those texts; not even the company has the access to them.

In a blog post, the company clarified that it would be working hard to clear up confusion and that it would be sharing the updated plan for how it will ask users to review the terms of service and privacy policy.

“In the coming weeks, we’ll display a banner in WhatsApp providing more information that people can read at their own pace,” the blog post read.

The company also faced backlash because of the poorly worded terms in the previous update, which caused confusion and concern and resulted in users abandoning the app entirely and moving onto other platforms.