Academic journal article International Management Review

Beyond the Veil: The Influence of Islam on Female Entrepreneurship in a Conservative Muslim Context

Academic journal article International Management Review

Beyond the Veil: The Influence of Islam on Female Entrepreneurship in a Conservative Muslim Context

Article excerpt

[Abstract] Although there is a well developed corpus of knowledge concerning female entrepreneurs in developed nations, relatively less is known about counterparts in developing and transitional economies. This paper uses a survey of 180 women entrepreneurs in Bahrain to examine the influence of various socio-economic factors on their decision to choose entrepreneurial careers. We find human capital to be instrumental in respondent's choice of business, type of financing sought, and level of networking. The expectation that ties to religious groups would confer an advantage when doing business in an Islamic country was not supported. Nevertheless, women who abided by Islamic customs were accepted in a typically male-dominated business world.

[Keywords] Islamic female entrepreneurship; Shari'a and entrepreneurship; Bahraini women entrepreneurs

Female entrepreneurship is a rapidly growing phenomenon in high, middle, and low-income countries. However, despite worldwide growth, it is less common in Middle Eastern and North African countries (MENA) than other parts of the world. Data from the World Bank Country Enterprise Survey (20032006) report the following frequencies of female businesses ownership-North America (31%), Europe and Central Asia (24%), East Asia (20%), Latin America (20%) and MENA countries (13%). This difference is particularly striking given significant progress by MENA women in education, social development, and labor force participation since 1970. Between 2000-2005 MENA women's share of the labor force increased from 25% to 27% and they comprised 36% of new entrants in the labor market in 2005 (World Bank, 2007).

MENA countries are predominantly Muslim with the Koran shaping the fabric of daily life for Muslims and Shari'a (Islamic law) governing the legal and economic framework in which businesses operate. The Koran prescribes for women rights, responsibilities, and restrictions that differ greatly from non-Muslim countries. For example, the precept qiwama, stipulates patriarchal responsibility towards women along with their support and protection. As a result, workplaces are segregated by gender and in conservative countries women require permission of a male family member to engage in activities outside the home (Kavossi, 2000). The precept wasta± establishes the predominance of male networks and requires men to assist women in gaining entrée to those networks. Consequently, women rely on men for access to business networks because the Koran enjoins direct contact with males who are not related by either blood or marriage (Pipes, 2004).

This paper explores the research question "How is female entrepreneurship shaped by Islamic traditions and Shari'a in a conservative Muslim context?" It draws on a sample of 180 female Bahraini entrepreneurs to investigate the impact of Islam and Shari'a on their choice of business (traditionally female activities such as retail and food service versus non-traditional activities such as engineering or manufacturing); the role of social capital in conferring better access to funding and business networks; and whether women who demonstrate a strong commitment to Islam are more successful in obtaining funding from Islamic banks and accessing business networks.

Literature Review: Female Entrepreneurship in a Non-Western Context

Few studies have been made of female Muslim entrepreneurs operating in an Islamic context. Indeed, the bulk of research has focused on female poverty and illiteracy. Notable exceptions are studies by Shabbir and D' Gregorio (1996) in Pakistan; Singh et al. (2001) in Indonesia; Mc Elwee and AlRiyami (2003) in Oman; Dechant and Lamky (2005) in Bahrain and Oman; Yetim (2008) in Turkey; and Azam-Roomi and Parrot (2008) in Pakistan and Essers and Benschop's (2009) study of female Muslims in the Netherlands. The preceding studies uncovered significant overlap with research conducted in developed nations. These include a preference for enterprises in traditionally female, service-based industries (Coleman, 2002; Dechant & Lamky, 2005); difficult access to capital (Izyumov & Razumnova, 2000; Verheul & Thurik, 2001; Mitra, 2002; Dechant & Lamky, 2005); gender-based perceptions that limited access to funding (Scherr et al. …

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