Eileen Padberg has been in Iraq for two years to help the women of that country succeed in business. On Nov. 6 at 7 p.m., she will share her experiences during an open forum at Converse College. Her presentation is free and open to the public, is entitled "Women Without Borders: Iraqi Women’s Stake in Democracy" and will be held in Barnet Room of the Montgomery Student Center. For more information, call (864) 596-9101.
Padberg has been a political consultant and corporate strategist based in Orange County, CA for 35 years. Her Iraqi adventure began when a friend and colleague called and suggested that she help write a plan to involve Iraqi women in the reconstruction process. “The proposal was part of the bigger proposal of managing the water sector reconstruction funds,” said Padberg. Then she was asked if she would be interested in going to Iraq to implement the program. “I had great clients. I had just bought a huge new house and I had just moved my office into my house. I don’t know what I was thinking. For whatever reason, I was at a point in my life where I needed a new challenge. I had been working on behalf of equality for women for years so I really thought that this would be the ultimate challenge, and it was. I believe so strongly that unless we can help the Iraqi women get a stake in the economy, democracy there won’t have a chance.”
Padberg worked 72 hours a week; she walked home at night with two armed escorts and a bulletproof vest. In interviews via e-mail, the 60-year-old Padberg makes this observation: “When we travel, we travel by C-130 or by Black Hawk helicopters. I am so amazed that, not only do all those people the military escorts put their lives on the line for me, but on the helicopter there are always these very young soldiers stationed at the doors…protecting us from someone on the ground who doesn’t even know me, but who wants to kill me. It is incredible.”
Padberg recruited women to attend, for example, engineering training seminars. She and an Iraqi American helped women business owners learn the aspects of the bidding process. From one construction conference in November in Baghdad, two women won contracts. As of early February, four women-owned businesses had earned significant contracts and more than a dozen women had landed career-building jobs.
According to Padberg, the good news is that Iraqi women have had the opportunity to be well-educated, though there have been setbacks including the Iran-Iraq war which left thousands of families without husbands and fathers, U.S. sanctions and now war. “Women had to look for jobs, not careers,” said Padberg. However, many women now work for the government which oversees the nation’s utilities. Some 30% of the Ministry of Municipality and Public Works are women; some 10% of the employees of the Ministry of Water Resources are women. It was a starting point, in part to move those women already employed up the ladder, with some going into supervisory roles, explained Padberg.