In many ways, life is slowly improving for working women and entrepreneurs in the Arab world. There is a trend towards liberalization of laws, business regulations and corporations in many countries. This has created unprecedented opportunities for women to – and even break – shatter the immense glass ceiling in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).
Women entrepreneurs have become a force to be reckoned with in many Arab economies, breaking stereotypes and paving the way for future generations. For example, entrepreneur Mona Ataya, founder and CEO of the United Arab Emirates (UAE)-based company. Momworld, launched a business tackling the lack of market support for mothers seeking advice and help in making purchasing decisions. Sarah Beydoun is another such figure. She is the founder and CEO of Sarah’s bagwhich empowers Lebanese women by providing them with work and preserving their cultural heritage.
However, despite this progress, businesses run by women remain a minority in the region. Less than 5 percent of businesses are run by women in the MENA region, compared to a global average of up to 26 percent.
Raising capital can be an uphill battle for women in the region. THE majority of women entrepreneurs in the MENA region do not seek a formal source of financing and rely on their savings or support from their family. Those seeking investments face unique challenges. According to a report by Wamda and TiE Dubai, a stunning project 66 Percent of female founders in MENA believe investors are less likely to invest in female-led start-ups. Their concern is confirmed by the fact that less than $50 million was invested in exclusively female start-ups during the first nine months of 2022, representing approximately 2% of the total investment in start-ups in the region during this period.
To overcome this challenge, venture capital firms should be more diverse and the number of women with decision-making power should increase. Specialized training on how to present and approach funders is another form of support that could be useful to women entrepreneurs in the region.
Networking is another barrier that women entrepreneurs in MENA face, as they are often excluded from male-dominated business environments. Building a strong network helps create the social capital that fuels collaboration and access to financing, and provides a support system for entrepreneurs on their journey. According to a study published in Cross Cultural & Strategic Management conducted in Turkey and four MENA countries (Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Morocco and Egypt) networking was identified as the main factor that helped women entrepreneurs overcome obstacles, such as access to capital or the discovery of new market opportunities. .
Finding supportive and inclusive networks is not easy in the region, but certain programs like that of the Atlantic Council WIn Scholarship and groups such as the Lebanese Business Women’s League (The AVF) create support systems for women entrepreneurs to connect with other founders, find mentors, and grow their businesses.
Another challenge for women entrepreneurs in the MENA region is that women are still expected to focus on raising their families rather than pursuing tax careers, which contributes to the region’s low female participation rate to the lowest labor market (24.6%) in the world. half the world average.
Changing social pressures and expectations is a slow process, which is why it is so important to continue to highlight accomplished female entrepreneurs and other successful women in the region. Events such as International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month provide useful platforms for women entrepreneurs and business leaders to celebrate their achievements and share their stories. However, civil society and other organizations should work to highlight these stories throughout the year so that young women and girls have strong role models.
However, increasing women’s entrepreneurship and leadership in the MENA region is not simply a matter of gender equality, but also a key to accelerating the region’s development. economic and social progress. It is also good for private companies. Research has repeatedly shown that companies with more women are simply more successful. In a study of 1,069 leading companies in thirty-five countries, researchers concluded that gender diversity leads to increased company productivity in terms of market value and revenue.
To mark and celebrate Women’s History Month, let’s take a moment to recognize the incredible trailblazing female entrepreneurs across the Middle East and North Africa. Despite the many challenges, these women are changing the business landscape. But the public and private sectors must be proactive to truly create opportunities. Governments in the region must create policies that promote employment opportunities for women and further support female entrepreneurship. Additionally, private sector companies should help create more welcoming business environments for women, which would also be a win-win for them. It’s time to harness the full power of women in business and take concrete steps to support their success.
Lynn Monzer is Associate Director of the Atlantic Council’s EmpowerME initiative at the Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East.
Mon March 8, 2021
On International Women’s Day, the Atlantic Council’s EmpowerME asked business and government leaders in the Middle East to share a “message of encouragement” about a female entrepreneur or business leader who inspires them.