Women Entrepreneurs of the Middle East

16 Aug 2015

Arab Women Entrepreneurs have always existed, long before the term became a buzzword. According to Forbes magazine – “In the past 10 years, there has been much change. There has been a perfect storm that has led to increased numbers of female entrepreneurs in the Middle East: increasing numbers of educated women, rising unemployment for both genders resulting in economic hardships, and growing media attention focused on social enterprises from around the world.”

Barriers to a woman’s meaningful participation in socio-economic and public life still exist. Women in the Middle East still suffer from a lack of opportunities, pay inequality, and a low glass ceiling. It is these very hurdles that may have led more women to start their own entrepreneurship projects. Many firms run by women entrepreneurs deal with what are labelled female issues, but even in other types of firm, male colleagues agree that woman tend to trump them in management skills. The cultural bias against women entering technological fields simply doesn’t exist in the Arab world. Women are now studying engineering at the same rates as men so they have the skills. But they also need the support from their community. The internet, however, is a new space that is more meritocratic and not as heavily male. The technology also lets entrepreneurs work from home, making it easier to raise children.

The business environment in the Middle East is fiercely competitive and has very limited resources. Unlike other regions, funding opportunities—whether through banks or government funds—are extremely scarce for start-ups. The eco-system has not developed enough to enable a willingness to understand and embrace new business models. As a result, funding remains a tremendous barrier for new and innovative ventures. A recent report also stated that women in the UAE and the rest of the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region remain substantially under-represented in business because they lack the confidence, funding and knowledge to start their own enterprise. Meanwhile, competitions to promote female entrepreneurship, such as the Women in Tech Business Plan Competition in Jordan and the Lebanese incubator Berytech’s Women Entrepreneur Competition, are counterparts to major regional business competitions such as Google’s Ebda2 and the MIT Arab Competition, for which organisers of both say the gender mix is about even.

There are fostering programmes being set up by successful women entrepreneurs, investment programmes set up by companies like Google and mentoring projects and incubation programmes set up by top universities like MIT. The possibilities are limitless—as are the potential rewards for women, their families, and societies as a whole. Still, being a woman entrepreneur in the Middle East is tough. The number of women entrepreneurs in the Middle East is likely to grow, including in the least likely places.

  • Share:

What people say