In the Middle East, women find that is it becoming increasingly difficult to be a female entrepreneur in the 21st century. According to an article written by the, “The Economist”, “It can be a challenge for women to be taken seriously in the business world, especially because men do not want women correcting them” (economist). One panelist at the Wamda event claimed that, “the challenge comes from within the family, as her mother encourages her to work less and focus on domesticity and marriage” (economist). Thus, unfortunately, some Middle Eastern women are discouraged from starting their own businesses both from the outside work world and from within their own families, due to a fear of matriarchal tendencies.
According to the same article by, “The Economist” (mentioned earlier), “Currently about 35% of Middle Eastern cities consist of women entrepreneurs, a fact that proves that while more than half of college graduates in the Middle Eastern countries are women” (economist.com), the workforce remains dominated by men. However, the Internet is now a tool that women use in order to integrate themselves into the workforce. As the Internet allows women to work from home and it is not necessarily a space dominated by men. With the freedom to work from home, women are able to raise children while running their businesses or working within one. Therefore, the Internet becomes a means to an end where the stigma attached to entrepreneurship no longer exists, the notion that work should be male dominant. Well-educated women of the Middle East may be discouraged to work and focus on “female” issues such as marriage and childcare, yet the Internet allows them to compromise between a lifestyle of domesticity and business.
In 2014 the book, “Arab Women Rising”, written by, Knowledge@Wharton, with contributors Nafeesa Syeed, and Rahilla Zafar, provides proof that Middle Eastern women are altering the entrepreneurial world. The book consists of thirty-five stories of different women who have journeyed to become successful entrepreneurs. These women have both made it into the male-dominant business world and have made significant a change to the ways in which we may view female entrepreneurs in the Middle East. These brave women have proven the false nature of the notion that Arab women are “submissive, family-focused, and financially dependent” (yourmiddleeast).
Deena Fadel, featured in, “Arab Women Rising”, quit her job at an advertising agency in order to put all her effort into creativity, and this decision became a stepping-stone for Fadel to begin her own business. According to the .com website, “Wamda”, “Deena Fadel began an online home accessories store called, “Joud”, which includes many distinct and original accessories designed by Fadel herself” (wamda.com). Fadel’s work is innovative because she incorporates her Egyptian background into her accessories, thus producing products that tell a story of her daily life. In example, “the majority of her designs are inspired by the streets of Cairo and Arabic calligraphy” (wamda.com), which truly proves that a woman does not have to give up her culture in order to be successful and autonomous. Despite the initial challenges that Fadel faced, she remains a great example of how a woman can follow her instincts and build something creative and meaningful, all on her own terms. Fadel suggests, “that women entrepreneurs should ignore their fears, as fear is only imagined, and to instead set goals and remain positive” (wamda.com).
Nisreen Shocair is another example of a Middle Eastern woman who has transformed the business world for women. In an online article written by, “Buzzfeed”, “She is now the President of Virgin Megastores “MENA” (Middle East and North Africa) and has transformed the company into one of the dominant entertainment brand within the Middle Eastern and North African regions” (buzzfeed). Adding to this was even recognized from the number one business school in the United States: Wharton school of business at the University of Pennsylvania, where on their online site they state, “Shocair has played a large role in entertainment, as she has been able to personally reshape the Arab music business. Now Arab artists are selling even better than Western artists” (knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu). Not only has Shocair successfully become an entrepreneur, but she has also transformed a business that affects the world of entertainment.
Lastly, another female inspiration, the Egyptian entrepreneur Heidi Belal, who mentioned on her .com website, “Cookiesnmorestore” is, “both co-founded “code-corner”, a web development firm, with her husband and then founded her own baked goods store, Cookies ‘n More. Cookies ‘n More offers delicious, healthy options for baked goods that are made from scratch”(cookiesnmorestore). Belal is a great example of a woman who started her own business whilst having a family. According to an online, “Buzzfeed” article, “While beginning her business Belal had to manage the website, the cooking, and the care of her daughters!” (buzzfeed) Belal also proves that women do not have to give up their families in order to be independent and to start their own business.
These three women emulate success under pressure and sub-par circumstances. They have all contributed to the world of business in such a way that will hopefully inspire and prove to other women that they can all become incredible entrepreneurs. As our world modernizes, and women are able to take advantage of tools such as the Internet in order to build their businesses and reach their customers or fan bases, woman influence and economy grows. With the Internet, along with influential entrepreneurs such as Heidi Belal, Nisreen Shocair, and Deena Fadel, the world of women entrepreneurs is slowly becoming a stronger place.
Author: Maria Domina
My name is Mariia Domina, a 24-year-old Ukrainian. My ambitions brought me to China, where I, a linguist with a bachelor degree, decided to study China’s politics and economics as my major. And here I am, getting my second Master degree in the US, excited about PhD, a researcher who is trying to make a difference in the field of counterterrorism and Middle Eastern politics. However, first of all, I am a woman. And as an ambitious young woman, I am trying to prove my point in everything I do, in hopes for my voice to be heard. And it will be!