Middleeast Job Hunting Guide

Working Women in the Middle East

Women’s status in the Middle East has been renowned to be one of controversy, as feminists and other social activists can attest. Nevertheless, modern society has seen changes in the status of women in the Middle East, as well as an emerging shift in gender roles.(In-Demand Professions in the Middle East)

The Middle East is a traditional Muslim society where the teaching of Islam plays a vital role in every aspect of life. From politics to education, from business to foreign relations, people look to Islam for direction. Although the Holy Koran has said that women are men are equal partners, the position of women in the region is far from the teaching.

For the purpose of this article, we will be focusing on Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Both are Islamic states but have some major differences in social culture, position of women and local business environment.

Saudi Arabia: Home to Islam’s holiest sites, Saudi Arabia is one of the world’s most conservative societies. Here the women are not allowed to drive, they have to be accompanied by a male relative in public, and dress in all-covering Abayas. The women have no voting rights, and until recently they could not have a national identification card of their own. Segregation is everywhere, and women have very limited choices in education and employment. But with more and more women graduating from universities and eager to work, the kingdom has certainly made some changes.

Now more than ever women are entering the workforce and even starting their own businesses. (Doing Business in the Middle East) According to recent reports, women currently run about 16,390 businesses, which is a significant improvement considering the restrictions women face. The society is slowly accepting women in the workplace, although women cannot be engineers or work alongside men except in a hospital.

For the world of international business, the rise in women-owned business in Saudi Arabia is a welcome sign. It represents many opportunities for foreign investment in women-centered services, say a consulting firm for women entrepreneurs, or offering legal services to women to invest in other countries.

Change comes slowly in Saudi Arabia but the women are ready to go the extra mile to make it happen.

UAE: With boom towns like Dubai and Sharjaha, the UAE is the foreign investment magnet of the region. Comparatively liberal and open, women in the UAE enjoy far more rights than their counterparts in Saudi Arabia or Iran.

In contrast with Saudi Arabia, women in the UAE are allowed to drive, there are women in the army and they have much more say in deciding their careers.

The number of women-owned business has grown over the years, with most of them being 1.7 times more productive than those run by men. One of the major B2B trading sites in the Middle East is run by a woman, based in the UAE. Sheikha Lubna Al Qasimi, who runs Tejari.com, is also Minister of Economy of the United Arab Emirates; a huge step forward for all women in Middle East.

Unlike Saudi Arabia, women in the UAE can work alongside men; this means that there are more career choices for them. Increasingly, women are entering male-dominated fields like construction and engineering. For example, Fatima runs her own company which designs the interiors of offices, hotels, apartments, retail outlets and restaurants in Dubai. Women are also entering the entertainment business, a difficult choice in an Islamic society.

For international business, women of the UAE and their continuing advancement means a potential market with wide possibilities. Women-centered services, products targetted toward women and also the possibility of investing in women-owned businesses (it helps that they are more productive than the male-owned businesses).

Like Saudi Arabia, changes come slowly in the UAE. With the appointment of a woman as the Minister of Economy, the nation is certainly taking a proactive approach to ensure that women get their due place in the society.

Women’s status in Middle Eastern society is gradually changing, or one can say improving, and we may very well see gender equality occurring in time to come, in the Middle East.

Source: Suite101

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