Female Gender Descriptors for Entrepreneurial Autonomy of Arab Women: Opportunities and Constraints

By Zgheib, Philippe W. | Competition Forum, July 1, 2006 | Go to article overview

Female Gender Descriptors for Entrepreneurial Autonomy of Arab Women: Opportunities and Constraints


Zgheib, Philippe W., Competition Forum


EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

During the twentieth century Arab women struggled to change their condition, and succeeded in finding a place, though still small, in the active labor force. Increasingly, Arab women are becoming educated, self-confident and autonomous. In a male dominated society, leading to feminization of unemployment, Arab women are considering starting their own businesses. They are venturing into self-employment opportunities. Social empowerment of Arab women has also become the aim of many. The increased participation of women in self managed activities is helping tremendously in the development and well-being of their households.

Keywords: Entrepreneurship, Arab, women, autonomy, gender

INTRODUCTION

In Arab countries, religion typically has a dominant place in people's lives. Most Arabs are Muslim. Muslim people see their religion Islam "first as a guide to a righteous way of life" (Abbasi, 1993). Therefore, an Arab woman will follow her duties to her religion before following her own interest and self fulfillment. Generally, she takes care of the typical responsibilities of an Arab woman, such as child bearing, household chores, her faith in God, and finally, after all is accomplished, her interest in starting a business may come. However, it is then that she is faced with politics, government bureaucracy, lack of support or money, and perhaps more religious constraints that do not allow most Arab women to cross the boundaries of what society accepts of them. A smaller number of Arab women entrepreneurs exist in comparison to American women entrepreneurs. The Arab world has many constraints such as religious, political, social, and cultural barriers that do not allow a woman to progress and enjoy socio-legal protection as a man would in the West. In addition, actual interaction between the media and social environment greatly differs and influences the success rate of women entrepreneurs in the Arab world.

STATUS OF ARAB WOMEN

Arab women in the past, and until the 20th century, usually had fewer opportunities and rights than men. Their presumed roles were restricted to wifehood/motherhood. Later on, Arab women significantly contributed to the economic, social and political developments in different countries. However, it is essential to point out that their contribution and participation in the work force is still a problem today, at the dawn of the 21st century in the Arab countries. For instance, Saudi women are not allowed to drive, while in other regions, women are prohibited from working due to tradition and culture. The table below portrays the involvement of Arab women in the labor force of different countries (Rawas, 2002).

Women and education

According to the United Nations Development Program, UNDP, Arab countries are approaching the 21st century with 65 million illiterate Arab adults, two thirds of them are women who can not read or write. Some of the reasons that discourage Arab women to pursue their education are the facts that some view it unnecessary (since women are expected to get married and take care of their family and household), and since females get lower wages than males (Rawas, 2002). On the other hand, the Arab region exhibits the fastest increase in female education of any region. Female literacy has expanded three fold since 1970.

The Gender Empowerment Measure, GEM, was introduced in 1995 to measure the participation of women by observing the income per person, women's share of professional and technical positions, and women's share of parliamentary seats. It was noticed that the Arab region's ranking was lower than any region except sub-Saharan Africa. The Arab region also scored lowest in women's participation in the work force, and in representation in parliaments. This was because women occupied only 3.5 percent of all seats in parliament. The report emphasized removing gender bias in labor markets. Moreover, it highlighted the need to give priority to women entrepreneurs when strengthening local capacity to offer micro-finance services beyond the less than 2 percent of poor households that have access to financial services (WBI, 1995)). …

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