In the last 15 years, women in the Middle East and North Africa have taken big strides in business and accomplished remarkable achievements. More women are serving as board members, holding political positions and are becoming influential figures in the media than ever before.
According to current estimates, 60 per cent of the Arab world’s population is under the age of 30. Literacy rates for women are now higher than those of men, with women numbering 75 per cent of students enrolled in colleges and universities. These estimates show that women will inevitably be part of the region’s growth and have a key role in all aspects of change.
The Arab Spring that swept across the region in 2011 brought hope and the dream of entrepreneurial liberty and a better future as well as freedom from economic, social and psychological barriers.
One year on, I see a huge potential for women to be leading job creation, influencing the regional economy and being part of improving communities.
Women have managed to establish themselves as an economic force. According to the Boston Consulting Group, their overall wealth in the region amounts to $500 billion dollars, while MEED, a Middle East business media company, estimates wealth managed by women in the GCC (Gulf Co-operation Council) region alone of $385 billion dollars.
The Arab Spring brought hope and the dream of entrepreneurial liberty
Prominent examples of women leading the way in business across the Middle East include UAE Minister of Foreign Trade Sheikha Lubna AlQasimi who was named the most influential woman on the CEO Middle East’s 100 Most Powerful Arab Women 2012 list.
She was claimed to be the force behind developing the Dubai airport system that improved cargo turnaround times in the UAE, which is the United States’ top export destination in the region.
Among others on the list are Lubna Olayan, a Saudi Arabian woman leading a finance company with activities in investments, manufacturing, distribution and services. She was the first Saudi woman in the history of the country to deliver an opening keynote address at Jeddah Economic Forum in 2005. This was a bold move from a prominent woman in the Saudi business world that is definitely giving more hope to Saudi women that things are heading in the right direction.
Nevertheless, there are still challenges in the Middle East and North Africa as traditions present a unique and limiting pressure on women. The way forward is to make sure that everyone sees the good role models succeeding in our region to inspire and empower women.
Every country in the region faces some uncertainty, but there are also opportunities for young women to play a role in shaping the framework that will set economic, legal and social change for the future.
Sara Bahamdan is a board member and part-owner of the Bahamdan Group, her family’s business, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. For the past 4 years, she has been managing the private office dealing with investments and running company philanthropic initiatives. She is currently in the process of opening a fashion company and investing in the industry.