WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Jan. 16, 2009) -- Iraqi women are getting a leg-up in the government contracting process through the help of the Corps of Engineers Gulf Region Division's Women's Advocate Initiative.

The program offers training and support to Iraqi businesswomen who are interested in learning about the government contracting process. The women gather for regular meetings, networking, and education programs that will help them grow their businesses, and eventually, help others.
Azza Humadi is the program manager of the Gulf Region Division's Women's Advocate Initiative.

Humadi has forged a close relationship with the women she mentors, so much so that three of them joined her Thursday for a special roundtable conversation with bloggers and on-line journalists.

"I share with them part of my life," said Humadi. "We go through issues with them on a daily basis and we have to make sure they are safe...secure."

For Iraqi businesswomen, the success of their work depends on more than a bottom line, but is directly linked to security. Many of the women have worked in "hot" areas, said Humadi, and depending on conditions, just getting to the location of their government contracts can be difficult.

Joint Contracting Command Iraq/Afghanistan has 1,848 registered women-owned businesses, and 1,020 contracts were awarded to women-owned businesses last year. From 2005 to 2008 the dollar amount of contracts awarded has increased from 7 million to 187 million, according to Lt. Col. Sandra Rodriquez-Brown, director of the Host Nation Business Advocate program.

The Gulf Region Division's Women's Advocate Initiative has had no small part in that progress, through its special programs, conferences and training for Iraqi businesswomen. Regular conferences and meetings bring women together to learn about the contracting process, how to register, and how to establish a business within a military installation.

Mary Terese Marrow owns Melik Al Misk Trading and General Contracts, Ltd. As an environmental engineer, she has seen her business grow with the help of Azza and the Women's Advocate Initiative.

"This program helps women a lot. It's really made a transition, a difference for women," said Marrow. "I got my first contract in 2006 by the help of Azza (Humadi)." Marrow sites herself as just one example of how the group has helped businesswomen. She's now providing vocational training for 650 trainees with 100 trainers, another contract she's been able to secure for her company because of the training and networking assistance she has received.

Entisar Al Taee owns Golden Hareer and discussed how women across the country have benefited from the growth and expansion of their businesses.

"The women are now more developed, more professional and...companies expand," said Taee. Her company began in 2003 and she has seen security, opportunity and partnership improve over the years since. Taee said that where there used to be zero work opportunities you now see many, with more space for women to show what they can do as professionals.

For Humadi, the relationships go beyond professional - it's personal.

"I established a great relationship with them and they mean so much to me," said Humadi. "The challenges they go through is a lot. I think they are very courageous women."

For more information on the Gulf Region's Women's Advocate Initiative and other U.S. Army Corps of Engineers programs, visit www.grd.usace.army.mil,. For a video story about a woman-owned business opening in Baghdad, go to http://www.youtube.com/watch'v=oj4c1RxTZ4M.