Female Booksellers turn the page on Gender Roles

By Mustafa Saadoun for Al Monitor. Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News. 

With its shelves filled with books by Russian and Italian authors alongside contemporary Iraqi writers, Books Town provides a welcome refuge in Baqubeh in Diyala governorate, which is known for sectarian violence and the Islamic State (IS).

The bookstore, which is a frequent stop for many intellectuals in Diyala governorate, is owned by Tayseen Ameer, a 31-year-old engineer. A woman who runs a bookstore is a rarity in the area but this has not stopped Ameer, who was dismayed that only a few bookstores cater to customers sitting down and reading.

“I wanted to spare local readers the effort of traveling all the way to Baghdad to buy books,” Ameer told Al-Monitor.

She said that she has faced many obstacles since she opened her bookshop in 2016 at the town’s commercial center, where most shops and large markets are owned by men. Some of her family members opposed her opening the bookstore, while some people who walked in harassed her, saying she had no business doing a man’s job.

Ruqaiyya Abd Ali, a lawyer who spends her mornings selling books in the well-known Mutanabbi Street, was the first woman to open a bookstore in Iraq. Since February 2015, Abd Ali has been selling books on the sidewalk, rather than in a bookstore, and her visibility as a bookseller has encouraged other women to follow in her footsteps and sell books on the street.

“I was surprised with the public and media interest in my business in Mutanabbi Street. I did not even know that I was the first woman to work as a bookseller [in Iraq],” Abd Ali told Al-Monitor, adding that she encourages more women to take up the profession.

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