Sep 9, 2016 — Richard Nixson Foundation

Strategic planning and corporate communications consulting expert Eileen Padberg visited the Nixon Library on September 8, 2016 for an evening lecture recounting her vivid experiences working with Iraqi women and living in a war zone.

When Padberg had the opportunity to go to Iraq in June 2004, she didn’t hesitate. She put her successful consulting business of 35 years on hold and embarked on a journey to Iraq with the single focus of helping the Iraqi women participate in the nation’s economic recovery.

During her 22 month stay in Iraq, Padberg established 500 American contracts with Iraqi women-owned businesses and provided training in leadership, management and budget and finance. By the end of her tour in March 2006, she had helped train more than 1,900 mid- and senior-level women in the Iraqi government.

Eileen Padberg is a consultant to an international organization that works with emerging democracies, traveling worldwide to provide political training in countries such as the former Soviet Union, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Guatemala.


Apr 22, 2008, Gail Matsunaga — California State University Fullerton

In 2004, Eileen Padberg jumped at the opportunity to travel to Iraq, with the focus of helping Iraqi women participate in whatever economic recovery democracy promised.

On April 23, she will recount her journey — a six-month commitment that stretched to 22 months — during her presentation “A Civilian’s View of Life in Iraq and the Way Forward for Iraqi Women” as part of Cal State Fullerton’s Women & Philanthropy speakers series.

The 11:30 a.m. – 1:30 p.m. talk will be held at Alta Vista Country, 777 E. Alta Vista St., Placentia. Tickets are $25 per person and may be ordered by calling 278-4732.

President of her own consulting firm, Padberg has served as a political consultant and strategist to elected officials at all levels of government, including managing the 1986 mayoral campaign for Clint Eastwood and serving as the regional political director for George Bush’s 1988 presidential campaign for California, Hawaii and Nevada.

She is a consultant to an international organization that works with emerging democracies, and traveled worldwide to provide political training for countries such as the former Soviet Union, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Guatemala.

As a community activist, Padberg has been recognized for her work with women, encouraging them to participate as elected officials and providing training programs to run and win political campaigns.

Cal State Fullerton’s Women & Philanthropy network is an organization that brings together successful women leaders who value CSUF’s educational mission and its effect on our communities. Its members are educated on the impact of philanthropy, presented with programs on professional and social topics, and have the opportunity to meet other dynamic and interesting women.


Oct 29, 2007, Lois Evezich — The Orange County Register

Once in a while a person appears in the public eye with a background so unique that the story must be told. Eileen Padberg is such a person, a woman with a vision that leaps over our country’s boundaries and makes a difference in a country that’s at war. Here is how this Laguna Niguel resident is changing lives of women in Iraq.

Q. How did you get involved with women’s projects here in the U.S. and in Iraq?

A. I have been an advocate for women most of my adult life, working with women to help them get elected to public office and out-front on significant public policy issues. I believed from the beginning that unless women had a stake in the economy, democracy would fail. I wrote the plan for Iraqi women with that in mind. As a known advocate for women, I was asked to write a plan that would be submitted as part of an overall proposal (in response to a Request for Proposal for a contractor that was bidding on the water reconstruction project). The early Pentagon contracts had a two sentence description that requested that any plan include the Iraqi women in the reconstruction process. It was assumed since I had done extensive training to help women run for public office, that I would know what was needed to meet the objective.

Q. What was the reaction of women in Iraq when they were presented with this opportunity?

A. The reaction was terrific. The Iraqi women were so excited that a woman from America would help them to succeed. My plan provided opportunities for Iraqi women by creating a job bank, career development training programs (Leadership/Management; Budget & Finance; English; Computer, Train-the-Trainer etc.) for women in government jobs and seminars to help Iraqi women owned businesses understand how to bid and win U.S. reconstruction contracts. The U.S. was providing $18.4 billion in reconstruction monies and I felt that this was a great way for women to build or expand their businesses by winning a few of these contracts.

Q. Did Iraqi women encounter resistance from Iraqi men when you organized leadership seminars?

A. No, not at all. Actually there was more resistance from our own U.S. contractors who did not understand that Iraqi women needed to work and to build their businesses and that they had the capabilities of doing almost anything. Women are 62% of the population – men have been killed in the many wars that Saddam had initiated – women have to feed their families.

Obviously the insurgents did not want women to succeed and because of that it made our seminars difficult to organize and dangerous for the women to attend. Iraqi women did not care about the danger, they wanted help from us.

Q. What did you do about the language barrier?

A. I recruited an Iraqi American young woman to go with me to Iraq. Her family had fled Iraq in 1991 and went back when the U.S. declared war. In addition to that, Iraqi women spoke pretty good English. Sometimes they had a hard time understanding English, but they did speak it.

Q. How did you prepare for your 22-month stay in Iraq?

A. I originally agreed to go for 6 months and ended up staying 22 months. The most important thing was to read as much as I could about Iraq and the women. In addition, I had to close down my successful consulting business. I met with each of my clients and explained that I was going to Iraq and that I had someone that I was recommending to replace me.

Q. What cultural differences did you have to learn about, such as shaking hands, women covering their hair, etc?

A. There were no cultural differences that I had to overcome. Iraqi women are just like us. They want a better life for their kids. They dress like us and they are very smart and clever. They greet each other just as women friends here greet each other – with a hug. Iraqi women had always had their own businesses (Mohammed’s wife was a business woman). It wasn’t until the insurgency had gotten really bad late in 2005 and 2006 that they started having to wear scarves over their hair for protection. Iraqi women are highly educated; there are more women engineers in Iraq than anywhere else in the Middle East. Iraq was the Paris of the Middle East. Women had the right to vote, the right to run for political office, the right to drive, the right to own property. They had work place harassment laws and even 5 years of maternity benefits! Iraqi women are very different than women in other parts of the Middle East.

Q. What were your thoughts, as a non-military person, when you were near the war zone?

A. It was quite stressful. I lived in the Green Zone, but traveled all over Iraq. The sound of gunfire and bombs and helicopters 24/7. I carried no gun. However, when I left the Green Zone I had a security convoy of a minimum of three SUV’s. I traveled throughout Iraq doing seminars for Iraqi women-owned businesses. My living arrangements were terrible – from Laguna Niguel to a high school classroom that I had to share with 4 other women.

We worked 11 hours a day, 6 ½ days a week. Our meals were taken in the mess hall – chicken, fish, meat all looked the same and tasted the same. There were rigid hours in which we could eat. At one point there was a $300,000 award for the head of an American woman. So you were always on guard. I had to wear a bullet proof vest that weighed almost 30 lbs; a bullet proof helmet that weighed 9 lbs – and in the summer it got to be 140 degrees!

Q. Did you work well with American men in Iraq? Military or contractors?

A. I think I worked well with American men, although I was always pushing them to hire Iraqi women; to understand that Iraqi women were capable and accomplished and able to do any engineering job or construction job. I had to push them very hard to include Iraqi women owned businesses in the list of bidders. I worked with contractors and military man – as well as Iraqi men.

Q. What do you see as the future of the American presence in Iraq?

A. I want to say right away that had we provided a “surge” of military 2 years ago, we would not be in the position that we are in today. The violence has gotten so bad that it is difficult to control it, however, it is working – unfortunately, it was too little and too late. Had we reviewed and readjusted our strategy 2 years ago we could have stabilized Iraq. Iraq is very secular – non-religious. Shiites and Sunni’s get along – before the February 2005 Iranian caused bombing of the Mosque in Samarra. Had we kept our commitment to the women of Iraq to help them seek freedom, we would have been way ahead. Had we not put thousands of Iraqis out of work and imported thousands of 3rd world country workers to do jobs that Iraqis could have done, we would have maintained the support and gratitude of the Iraqi people. Had we invested in the economy – we imported every piece of paper, every vegetable, every screw, hammer or pencils – instead of investing in the economy of Iraq; we would not be in this position today. I don’t know what the end is like for Iraq, but I do know that the Iraqis didn’t ask us to come to Iraq and it is our responsibility to clean up our mess and then leave. We are paying a lot of Congressmen a lot of money to solve problems – they have spent the last 3 years debating whether two men could live together instead of doing the job that they are way overpaid to do. It is way too simple to scream “stop funding the war” and “bring our troops home.” The Iraqis want peace – and sooner or later they will attain their dream.

Q. How can Iraqi women keep their foothold in construction, business, other professional areas that may seem new to them and to Iraqi men?

A. Though my program was such a small piece of the entire effort, we were responsible for training approximately 350 women owned businesses on how to bid and win contracts – resulting in a minimum of 500 substantial contracts for women owned businesses being awarded by our government – those contracts will go on and the women that have been successful in those contracts will continue to win more contracts. In addition, our program provided career development training programs for over 1,900 mid and senior level women in government. The majority of the Iraqi men did not oppose Iraqi women working. It is only the very religious that Don’t want women to be equal – much like here.


Mar 15, 2007, Eileen E. Padberg  — SF Gate

The latest effort by the Bush administration to revise its strategy in Iraq to “empower the Iraqi women … in the hopes that they would encourage their men to fight the insurgency” is fascinating, considering it is too little, too late.

A deep belief in opportunity for women led me to Iraq, where I spent 22 months helping Iraqi women get jobs, start new businesses and undergo career training. I felt that debating why we went to Iraq was for others; I could do my part by providing the Iraqi women with a level playing field. That was my area of expertise.

Yet, the Bush administration failed to understand how important it was to include the Iraqi women in their fledgling democracy, to protect their rights and to help them achieve financial independence. Every day, my work was like pushing a rock uphill — because our own people could not see the incredible benefits of providing equal opportunities for women.

When the United States committed $18.4 billion to Iraq for reconstruction efforts, I believed that an opportunity existed for women-owned businesses to land U.S. reconstruction contracts — contracts for any and everything, from painting buildings to rebuilding schools. But serious effort was required — not just to provide jobs — but to create real opportunities that could help Iraqi women, who made up two-thirds of the population, obtain a stake in the economy. What I found, however, was that providing Iraqi women opportunities was low on the list of priorities for our U.S. contractors as well as our State Department. Most of the people who went to Iraq had little knowledge of Iraq. They didn’t understand that under Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party, Iraqi women had some degree of equality. They were encouraged to get an education, allowed to work, to drive and to vote. Many had their own small businesses.

The erosion of their rights began when Hussein, who was losing favor as a result of failed wars and increased poverty, expanded his coalition to include religious leaders. In addition, 30 years of U.S. sanctions were particularly hard on the women, plunging them into poverty.

So, the day the statute of Hussein was pulled from its pedestal in Baghdad, women all over Iraq were meeting in small groups to determine how they were going to win back and protect their constitutional rights.

Yet, the future was foretold when only three were assigned roles in the Coalition Provisional Authority. Even with that setback, the Iraqi women didn’t give up: They demanded 40 percent representation in their Parliament, but without the support of the provisional authority, the women ended up negotiating down to 25 percent representation — still better than our Congress, where women hold 17 percent of the seats.

Despite the pronouncements from Washington that Iraqi women were a priority, the State Department and the U.S. contractors it hired failed miserably to recruit “women-owned businesses” in Iraq or even to engage Iraqi women professionals.

From the beginning, the Iraqi women faced major hurdles. Not only did they face the “good old boy” system in Iraq — not necessarily of Arab culture, but of American contractors — with contracts going to those men who had built their businesses in the provisional authority days. Iraqi women didn’t have the financial backing needed to meet the start-up requirements, nor did they have U.S. partners.

Within six months, we developed a list of approximately 350 women-owned businesses that were capable of bidding on contracts. This list was distributed every other month to anyone in Iraq who had any authority to award contracts. It bore fruit: By the end of March 2006, approximately 500 substantial contracts were awarded to women-owned businesses. However, the effort to get the State Department to set aside 5 percent of the U.S. contracts for Iraqi women-owned businesses (just as we do in the United States) stalled for 1 1/2 years, without support from either the State Department or female members of Congress.

Another big problem for those Iraqi women in government jobs — generally in the ministries that provided water and power — was a lack of training that would enable them to advance in their careers. Many had been in the same jobs for 25 years, with no hope of promotion. We provided training in leadership, management, budget and finance, as well as a series of “train-the-trainer” seminars. We had trained more than 1,900 mid- and senior-level women in the Iraqi government as of March 2006. This part of the program continues through this month.

I left Baghdad in March 2006 with a great sense of accomplishment, but also with a deep sense of disappointment in our own disrespect for the Iraqis, particularly for the Iraqi women. Now, I wonder, will we use what we learned in Iraq or will we continue to make the same mistakes?

What the Iraqi women really needed was opportunity, and — oh boy — did we fail them there. In failing them, we failed ourselves. I truly believe if we had kept our commitment to the Iraqi women, we would not be in the situation we are in today. Had we provided the Iraqi women with opportunities three years ago, Iraqi women would have stood up and said, “that’s enough.”

But we missed that opportunity.


Nov 1, 2006 — Converse College

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 th

ousands 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.


Sep 21, 2006, Nick Schou — OC Weekly

Eileen Padberg was a Republican political consultant from Laguna Niguel until two years ago. That’s when she dropped everything—on something like a lark, but more sober given that it involved moving from the relative tranquility of Orange County political infighting to a real, brutal killing zone—to help Iraqi businesswomen. It wasn’t until she put on a gas mask for the first time that Padberg had second thoughts about the decision.

She was standing in an air-conditioned conference room at a Kellogg, Brown N Root office inside the Khalifa Hilton, located on a beach 40 miles south of Kuwait City. It was late May 2005 and blazingly hot outside. In two days, Padberg and her Iraqi-American associate were scheduled to fly to Baghdad on a lumbering U.S. Air Force C-130 cargo plane. An American military officer was patiently showing her and about 15 other American civilians how to attach the masks to their faces quickly enough to survive a biological weapon attack.

Along with the gas mask, Padberg had just been issued a 41-pound flak vest and a helmet. With the equipment came a briefing. “Don’t walk anywhere alone,” the officer warned them. “Don’t pick up anything on the street—there are improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, everywhere in Baghdad, and even a $100 bill can be rigged to explode.”

“That’s when the reality of my decision to go to Iraq finally sank in,” Padberg says. “Before that, I really hadn’t thought about how dangerous Iraq really was. I started asking myself, ‘What have I done?’ But by then it was too late to turn around.”


Feb 20, 2005, Eileen Padberg  — Gulf Region Division

The Gulf Region Division (GRD) Water Sector Women’s Initiative hosted its quarterly Roundtable Discussion recently. Eighteen Iraqi women business owners participated in the four- hour discussion on contracting procedures. The Roundtable Discussion takes a small number of Iraqi women-owned businesses and walks through the contracting process for them. These workshops help the women business owners to understand better the process – from how to locate the contracts up for bid to how to respond to the debriefings.

Kathye Johnson, GRD Director of Reconstruction welcomed the women and told them that her office was interested and eager to help women business owners secure contracts.

“There are two elements to winning the peace in Iraq – one is security and the other is reconstruction and infrastructure. My whole Contracting team is anxious to make certain that women have equal opportunities in getting some of the many contracts that are available – we believe in your capabilities. We believe in you,” said Johnson.

Johnson introduced Sahar, a successful woman business owner who participated in the Women’s Initiatives training programs. Sahar expressed her appreciation for the training that she received that allowed her to win contracts.

James Addis, Joint Contracting Command-Iraq Contracting Officer taught the workshop wherein he explained the contract process and answered questions. In addition, representatives from both Fluor/AMEC and Washington International attended to meet the women and offer their help and guidance in the bidding process.

“Women are 62 percent of the population in Iraq and they need to be recognized for their contributions. No democracy can survive when women are denied a stake in the economy,” said Eileen Padberg, Program Manager, Communications and Public Awareness. “Many of the Iraqi women business owners lack confidence because they are not used to competing against men, but attending these training programs has given them confidence.”

There will be another Roundtable Discussion scheduled in January. In addition, a newsletter will be distributed to the women-owned businesses that are part of the database.

“We want to help as many women business owners as possible get contracts. Creating a comfortable and safe environment where the Iraqi women can ask questions is our goal, “said Joyce Downey, Manager, Women’s Initiatives.


Jan 1, 2005, Eileen Padberg — Women In Leadership

The first elections in Iraq since 1958 were a huge success!  Since we now have cable television in our trailer, I was able to watch CNN, BBC and Fox News all day.  It was so exciting.  I was really moved by the many women that risked their lives to vote.  It is always worse for them.  I know that you were watching the same coverage – those smiling faces. It brought back memories of when I was in Guatemala for their first ever democratic elections.  They didn’t have as many choices that the Iraqis had, and their candidates were rumored to be military coup candidates.  When I asked them why they were voting, they would always smile and say, “Because we can.”

I was reminded by my friend Ladonna Lee this morning that she was in Haiti for the first democratic elections.  The gorillas there machined gunned the place where the elections were taking place, killing many US AID workers. But the people were determined to vote. The voters were hiding behind huge concrete barriers and one at a time they would run in, all crouched down, vote and run back behind the barriers – while the gorillas were shooting at them.  I only wish our own citizens thought voting was as important.   

No matter what the turnout is here – and some say it is 70% – the elections will have been a success.   No one here has been allowed to vote at all since 1958.   And, just like the US, large numbers of voters chose not to vote – that is also their right.  If you choose to sit it out, then you have little say in the construction of their first constitution.

The insurgents threw everything at us in the last few days trying mightily to scare the Iraqis away from voting.  Literally on Saturday night there must have been 40 mortars, explosions and lots of gunfire.  I kept trying to decide whether to put on my vest and helmet.  One mortar hit the Palace/Embassy.  Two people were killed, two people that I knew – although not very well, and many others were injured.  If the mortar had exploded a lot more people would have died, but it did not explode.

We, as you know were not allowed to come to the office.  We closed at 4:00 pm on Saturday and were not allowed back until today – Monday. Everyone in charge of security here were more worried that a mortar or even a suicide bomber would attack our building which is a prime target.

We won’t know for another 10-15 days whether or not Esra’s mother will win a seat.  I am very excited for her.  She says it isn’t about winning – but about running and putting yourself out there as a candidate.

Regardless of our reasons for being here in Iraq, I wanted all of you to know how proud I was when I watched the many people risking their lives to vote – and knowing that many of the voters were women.  I was also proud when I watched as the cars took our own Iraqi ex-pats to the convention center to vote.  I was not allowed to go because of security, but I was there in spirit as I sent Esra off.  They all came back and held up their index fingers covered in purple ink.

I believe that yesterday’s elections brought a new sense of pride to the Iraqis.  I don’t think that the insurgents will go quietly away, but I do think we will begin to see more Iraqis standing up for themselves in the coming months.

Esra and I are busy working on our next conference in Kirkurk.  The travel and accommodations are incredibly challenging.  No one is in charge!  I’ve already lost my temper three times this morning.  We started the process a week ago and we are not closer to securing a place or what they call around here – life support (accommodations, security and food).

Anyway, all is well.  Thank you for your continued support.



Oct 14, 2004, Eileen Padberg — Women In Leadership

WIL Board Member Eileen Padberg has been in IRAQ for more than 6 months as a civilian helping to build a democracy that includes women contractors. She emailed us this week:

On a very sad note, my brother passed away on September 28th. Heart attack at age 58! I had been in Basra (south of Baghdad) with members of our Water Sector Team providing Operations and Maintenance Training seminars. I rushed off the next morning to Las Vegas to be with my nieces and sister-in-law. My friend Julie Wright flew over from California to support me. I did manage to spend one night in California, slept in my very own bed and showered in my own shower! I am still very sad and will need to find a way to deal with this terrible loss.

As I have said, all security reports indicate that the violence will escalate here up through the election – and today, we definitely were reminded of how true that is. I have mentioned the Green Zone Café, less than a quarter of a mile from our office – a lot of us like to eat there. But while I was in the US, a bomb was found in the air conditioning unit and our security as well as the Embassy security issued a “do not visit” mandate last week. Well today, a suicide bomber hit the Green Zone Café and another suicide bomber hit the Haji Market (a little Iraqi Bazarre less than a quarter of a mile from our office in the opposite direction of the GZC). We are all pretty shaken here – we could feel the impact. Our entire building rattled. Way too close and as I have said, the insurgents will feel a big victory because they were able to get inside. The good news is that we have accounted for all of our team mates – we have a strict accounting system. Two of our friends in the Electric Sector were just getting ready to walk into the Haji Market and were blown back. Their response when they got back here was gruesome. We had scheduled emergency evacuation practice for this afternoon – so we all knew what to do.

We are all in lock down – no one leaves the office for a while. Those people that were out at the Palace are locked down there.

On to the good news–I am beginning to feel that we might be on the verge of making some progress with regard to opportunities for women. We held an Operations and Maintenance Training seminar in Basra two weeks ago. Our own people told me when I asked why there were no women enrolled, “that women were not interested in operations and maintenance training.” I pushed and recruited 7 women engineers to participate. The response was great. One woman who attended said that she had worked for the Water Directorate for 15 years and had never had any training and thought it was extremely valuable. She gave me the names of 9 other women that wanted and needed training. I view this as big victory because our own guys learned a valuable lesson, despite the assurances of the local water director that he “couldn’t find any women that would be interested.”

I am encouraged by continued reports coming out of Washington DC about how important programs like ours are – and of course, I give that speech at least once a day. Just yesterday, two of our design build contractors came to me and asked if Esra and I could find three separate women owned businesses that could provide copying services (there is a lot of data that needs to be copied and distributed) and computer services. Esra and I have been gathering resumes and meeting with various women owned businesses for the past three months. We will come up with several choices! This is exactly what I want to do, provide many women with the ability to start a business or expand their business with work generated by the reconstruction efforts. The victory here is that the design-build contractors came to me with the request. I have been preaching to them for three months –“unless we can guarantee women a real stake in the economy of Iraq, Democracy will not take root and we will have wasted all of our efforts and money.”

Esra was asked to participate in a White House update on the fate of Iraqi women – this is a follow-up to a conference she attended last year. It was held by Under Secretary of State, Paula Dobriansky (she is a big supporter of our program). While in DC, Esra made the rounds of several other “state department” types touting our program and our efforts to help Iraqi women. Esra also met up with our friend the Minister of State for Women who was also visiting Washington.

…Anyway, I hope this catches you up on my life and activities. I hope you are all well. Oh, and one more thing….the one and only day that I was in California, guess what was on my desk ….my absentee ballot. I have been a long time permanent absentee voter, so there it was. I would only say this about that,…..when you vote,…remember the ladies.

Thank you for all you do for me and for keeping me in your prayers. It is very much appreciated.