Saturday, September 15, 2007

Arab Businesswomen Inch Forward

Sources: Financial Times—Women Challenge Age-Old Prejudices

In the Arab world, women are finally being recognized as a valuable entity to the economy. In 2002, the UN Arab development report described “the marginalization of women as one of the three deficits crippling the region’s” economic development. As a result, women’s rights have been the forefront of concerns in the Middle East. Arab women face high discrimination levels due partly to old traditions and certain understandings of Islam. There have been some exceptions of prejudice in the Arab countries, such as Tunisia and more recently Morocco. According to the Financial Times, 30% of Arab women contribute in the economy, as opposed to the 55% world average. There is an obvious lag in women’s contribution to the economy in the Middle East compared to the rest of the world. The economic development contributed by women differs from country to country. In some more extremist countries, you will find a much larger gap between women’s contribution to the economy and the world average.

Although the Arab women have faced great hardship, many have recently experienced great triumph. Against all odds, Arab women have forced their way into the business world and put their handprints in the Arab economy. As more women continue to make their marks, others have been encouraged to follow in their footsteps. However, most of the Arab businesswomen come from fortunate conditions. Many have been able to work their way up in mostly family businesses. Most recently, on the other hand, women in the more current generations are becoming educated and starting their own businesses.

A UN development report found that between 1990 and 2003, the women’s share of economic activity in the Arab region increased more than any other region of the world. This may sound promising. However, the women’s share of involvement in economic activity started very low compared to the other regions. Even though improvement may be slow, it has been quite noticeable. Still, Arab women have yet to compare to the women business owners in other parts of Africa and Asia. A World Bank study found that “women were the principal owners of 13% of 4,000 companies surveyed in the seven Middle East countries.” The businesses owned by women in the Middle East, on the other hand, are much larger than the businesses owned by women in other parts of Africa and Asia, and “more than half of them were managed” by females.

Arab women are giving Arab men a run for their money. It was found that women business owners employ more highly skilled employees and increase employee numbers faster than male business owners, even though the women face many more obstacles. The World Bank senior adviser explained, “they’re [Arab businesswomen] creating more productive jobs and being more creative.”

Significant improvements in education have aided women in becoming more successful with time. Similar to the United States, female students are now outnumbering male students. In addition to education, another aid in the prosperity of Arab women is the recently increasing development of oil. Oil development has sparked the economy and provided more opportunities in several trades and industries.

Furthermore, in order for Arab women to continue to prosper, it is essential that they expand beyond family business ownership. Several organizations have been stressing the importance of training Arab women to have greater confidence in order to help create more small and medium sized companies. Nonetheless, it is still a great concern that many Arab women are left behind, particularly those from poor backgrounds.Discussion Questions:Will the amount of Arab women participating in the economy ever meet the worldwide average? In the long run, will businesses run by Arab women be as successful or more successful as businesses run by Arab men? Will the prosperity of Arab women plateau? Will Arab businesswomen expand into other areas of business ownership, rather than mostly family businesses?

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