It is a great challenge to work as a women entrepreneur in the Middle East. Over the past years, efforts from the government and the business sector have improved the status of women in business but there is still a long way to go. Rasha Oudeh, CEO at CEDEM AG is an experienced Jordanian entrepreneur currently working in Switzerland who talked to us about the gender equality in the Middle East where entrepreneurship is still a man’s business.
Rasha Oudeh is an experienced Jordanian Entrepreneur with 18 years of diverse managerial experiences at various positions from CEO, Managing Director to Executive. She has profound technical educational background in Information technology, graduated in 1999 from a community College in Amman. When the computers were newly introduced in Jordan, Oudeh seized the opportunity to work as a part time Microsoft Office instructor to new trainees.
In 2015, Oudeh bought CEDEM AG in Zurich, a Swiss company established in 1991 that specialises in manufacturing and distributing healthcare products. The company vision to become the leading private label service supplier to the Middle East, and the first choice for Arab wholesale and retail chains that seek to manufacture products under their own brand labels.
Culture of Entrepreneurship
In Rasha’s opinion, entrepreneurship in the Middle East is a culture that is difficult to express through numbers, statistics, and desk research.
This culture of entrepreneurship is neither very clear in the Middle East nor easily classified: there is no systematic model among upper classes, and that system disperses even further in middle classes and can be extremely rare to find in lower income classes. This is not a comparison between well-off and limited income people, as we cannot hold any person responsible for the economic status of the family that brought him or her to this world.
Rasha believes that two main factors play an important role in the background of an entrepreneurial story, which are:
Living independently: In the Arab culture, no matter which religion, a man or a woman is not allowed to live independently away from the parental home until he or she is officially married. Otherwise, it would bring shame on the family which is unacceptable. It would require the whole neighborhood’s blessing to live independent and unmarried.
Being financially responsible for others: It is normal for a person in the Middle East to be responsible for the entire family. This is justified by an individual competence which brings financial benefits to the family. The family may be dependent on that member, making that person feel obliged to carry on with support. The paradox is that the woman’s financial responsibility would increase if the income of her family is limited, especially when she enters the labor market.
Two Women, two Fates
Taking into consideration the two previously discussed points, it becomes clear that a woman’s dream of being an entrepreneur differs greatly depending on several factors. A woman who leads a life with financial restrains will hold on to her hope and the given opportunity, but the fear of failure makes her unable to think of the dream of entrepreneurship. In a different situation, a second woman in fortunate circumstances, and having more resources, might seek a job in a suitable field to support her dreams.
The first woman is more passionate, persistent and strongly determined to succeed, while the second woman may initiate business as a kind of activity or hobby and not as a matter of survival for herself and her family. Of course, this is not meant to generalise and assume that this is how it goes for every woman in the Middle East but an estimate of how a women’s dream of success as an entrepreneur differs greatly depending on financial, educational and social status.
Key Facts and Numbers in the Middle East
To underline the current status of entrepreneurship in the Middle East, the following numbers and statistics can be helpful:
Arab women are creating employment within Middle Eastern countries surveyed, Tunisian women-owned firms employ 19.3 workers per firm on average, in comparison to Jordan which employ an average of six workers per firm.
Finally, despite the restrains and the challenges, there are a lot of changes and developments in the Middle East. The opportunity having women participating in labor markets in a rate equivalent to that of men’s, could rise the GDP by 47% over the next decade.
The region could also see $600 billion rise in economic impact annually which can span to $2.7 trillion by 2025. From a population of 72 million young Arab people, 32 million young women are unemployed. If their potential were to be properly put to use, their added value could amount to 50 billion dollar annually.
The numbers and analyses from Rasha show that the female entrepreneurship in the Middle East has a high potential but the Arab culture and traditions have a high impact on future developments regarding gender equality and women in a leadership role.