Report Says Female Entrepreneurs in Middle East Could Boost Economy

March 21, 2023 by Kate Michael
Report Says Female Entrepreneurs in Middle East Could Boost Economy

WASHINGTON — Given increased economic stress around the world, the official release of a new report by the Wilson Center’s Middle East Program on female entrepreneurship in the MENA region may be that much more relevant. 

The Middle East and North Africa region has one of the lowest levels of women’s labor force participation, averaging at 19% — compared with the global average of 46% — and only one in four businesses is owned by women. The Wilson Center’s study, which included data from the entire region but focused particularly on case studies in Bahrain, Lebanon and Tunisia, looked to identify why gender gaps in entrepreneurship persist and make suggestions to close some barriers for female-owned businesses.

Translating women’s desire for entrepreneurship into reality in the MENA region has substantial potential to boost productivity and income according to Katrina Fotovat, senior official at the State Department’s Office of Global Women’s Issues, at an event for the report’s release. 

“Gender equality is intrinsically linked with the well-being of all society. … A critical part of [that] is promoting entrepreneurship,” she said.

Fotovat suggested that the State Department was placing women’s economic security at the heart of American foreign policy, already working in the MENA region on training, capacity building, digital and financial tools, and improved access to markets and supply chains.

Women’s business in MENA is “good for the entire economy,” she said, as it “could add up to $6 trillion for the global economy.”

Similarly, Sheik Abdullah bin Rashid al Khalifa, Bahrain’s ambassador to the United States, said that “women’s advancement has long been on the forefront of [Bahrain’s] priorities.” To this end, his country has established a Supreme Council for Women, spearheaded by Princess Sabeeka Bint Ibrahim Al Khalifa.

“Recognition of the participation of women raises the standard of every aspect of our lives,” he said, calling the report a “powerful document.” 

But despite the efforts many MENA countries are working toward to open entrepreneurship and career opportunities, assure physical and mental well-being, and promote financial self-sufficiency, there remain legal barriers and “cultural norms … [that] make it challenging for women to access services outside of their communities or make them vulnerable to harassment,” explained Lynn Mounzer, analyst and co-author of “Women and Entrepreneurship in the MENA Region.

The report, which aggregates datasets from various national, regional, and global sources and is supplemented by interviews with those affected, hopes to better explain why women’s entrepreneurship in the MENA region continues to lag behind.

“We tried to expand the view of social, economic and leadership barriers women faced,” Mounzer said.

A variety of challenges are identified, including education and workforce skills readiness, a legal environment in MENA that hinders female entrepreneurship in subtle and not-so-subtle ways, social-cultural mindsets, a lack of accessibility to safe and affordable travel, and a venture capital funding gap.

“Less than 3% of the VC money in the region went to women in 2022,” Mounzer said, adding, “[Women] face an uphill battle when pitching their ideas to male-oriented panels.”

And those who are able to secure funding to start a business have a hard time getting the money to grow and sustain that business. 

While women and men in Lebanon, Tunisia and Bahrain technically have the same rights to open bank accounts and obtain credit at formal financial institutions — Bahrain is the only country in the region to enforce open banking — in the MENA region, less than 5% of the land is owned by women, and women face discriminatory inheritance laws that make asset ownership rare, hindering them from securing loans without collateral. 

“Gaining relevant experience in fields where women wish to establish their business is also challenging,” Mounzer said. 

Among other reforms, she and her co-authors push for improving financial inclusion to adopt gender-sensitive lending practices, targeted investment in women’s skills training, legal efforts to address discriminatory laws, and, overall, creating an enabling environment to address the discrimination women are facing. 

“We need to work towards improving the economic condition of women in the region whether in the workforce … or as entrepreneurs,” Mounzer insisted. “You’re missing out on a huge population … if you’re not giving them support.” 

“To improve your economy, improve business, and even improve the social condition in your country, it’s common sense,” she said. “[Women] are a great power and we cannot forget that, as we tend to do.”

Kate can be reached at [email protected]

A+
a-
  • Female Entrepreneurs
  • Middle East
  • In The News

    Health

    Voting

    Think Tanks

    April 10, 2024
    by Kate Michael
    Social Media: Shaping or Shattering Modern Society?

    WASHINGTON — Many studies have been done on the detrimental effects of technology on American life, with social media in... Read More

    WASHINGTON — Many studies have been done on the detrimental effects of technology on American life, with social media in particular being named a major cause of psychological distress. One social researcher says there’s a reason the youngest generation is getting hit harder by the ills... Read More

    April 1, 2024
    by Kate Michael
    AEI Holds Discussion on How Current Trends May Be Reshaping Media

    WASHINGTON — As NBC News was dealing with the aftermath of hiring and then firing former Republican National Committee Chairwoman... Read More

    WASHINGTON — As NBC News was dealing with the aftermath of hiring and then firing former Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel, prominent figures in journalism and academia spoke on what they see as concerning trends reshaping the media landscape and its impact on democratic values.... Read More

    March 21, 2024
    by Kate Michael
    Rep. Ro Khanna Talks of Need to Future Proof the Economy

    WASHINGTON, D.C. — There was as much discussion on inclusive economic policies as on Democratic campaign strategy when Rep. Ro... Read More

    WASHINGTON, D.C. — There was as much discussion on inclusive economic policies as on Democratic campaign strategy when Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., spoke at the D.C.-based think tank, Center for American Progress, on Wednesday.  Talking strategies for fortifying the economy against future challenges, Khanna laid out... Read More

    February 20, 2024
    by Kate Michael
    Brazilian Diplomat Talks Relationship With US in Advance of Blinken’s Visit to Rio

    WASHINGTON, D.C. — Secretary of State Antony Blinken travels to Rio de Janeiro this week, marking his first visit to... Read More

    WASHINGTON, D.C. — Secretary of State Antony Blinken travels to Rio de Janeiro this week, marking his first visit to Brazil after four years as the top U.S. diplomat. Many believe the visit, scheduled to coincide with the G20 foreign ministers’ summit, is overdue as the... Read More

    January 29, 2024
    by Kate Michael
    Former House Speaker Ryan Calls EITC ‘Best Tool in the Arsenal’ for Economic Mobility

    WASHINGTON, D.C. — As Congress grapples with the challenges of government spending levels and bipartisan tax deals, one policy that... Read More

    WASHINGTON, D.C. — As Congress grapples with the challenges of government spending levels and bipartisan tax deals, one policy that has consistently been at the center of discussions for promoting America’s 21st-century economy is the Earned Income Tax Credit. According to Paul Ryan, former speaker of... Read More

    December 20, 2023
    by Kate Michael
    Ambassador Burns Hopeful About Future US-China Relations

    WASHINGTON — Last month, President Biden met with China’s President Xi Jinping at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in California.... Read More

    WASHINGTON — Last month, President Biden met with China’s President Xi Jinping at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in California. This was the leaders’ first meeting in a year, and while it didn’t yield any major breakthroughs, after years of deteriorating relations, there was an effort... Read More

    News From The Well
    scroll top