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Women are beginning to play a vital role in GCC businesses – and society’s reaping the benefits.
June 30, 2012 7:03 by Reuters
“In the United States, women-owned firms are growing at more than double the rate of all other firms,” informed president of Mena Businesswomen’s Network.
However, the challenges remain. Al Zayani said: “While the effects of gender inequality in education have been reduced, businesswomen and entrepreneurs in the MENA region still face many obstacles. Women-owned SME’s are less likely to obtain formal financing, often pay higher interest rates and often receive smaller loans. In many MENA countries, laws that require a husband’s permission to travel or mandate that a woman’s husband co-sign a loan hinder women’s business opportunities. Because of discriminatory inheritance laws and wage gaps, women also have less personal capital.”
Overall, women’s untapped potential is great — they make up half of the world’s population, yet earn just 10 percent of the world’s income. When women have control over their incomes, they invest in the health, education and well-being of their families, said an Exxon mobil report. They also tend to reach out to propel other women forward, creating a powerful multiplier effect that benefits all of society, it said.
Coming to the region, private and semi-private companies in the GCC are under enormous pressure to nationalize their workforce, owing to a combination of high regional unemployment and a currently outsized proportion of expatriate workers in the region.
Qatar has set targets of 50 percent national workforces for all sectors, even though nationals currently represent only 5.7 percent of the country’s labor force, said a Booz & Co report on GCC women. Kuwait plans to introduce residency caps to reduce the percentage of expatriates to 45 percent of the overall population. Saudi Arabia is taking perhaps the most drastic step, with a new Saudization plan called Nitaqat that assigns private-sector companies a rating of red, yellow, green, or excellent depending on the number of Saudis they employ; companies in the red zone would not be permitted to renew the visas of their expatriate staff.