Business women in O. Medio, between glass walls and ceilings


Cristina Bazan |

International Writing (EFE).- The machismo and gender bias that exists in Middle Eastern and North African countries makes businesswomen trapped and it is very difficult for them to break through ceilings and glass walls imposed in the world of work and entrepreneurship.

In an interview granted to EFE, Ayah Elarief and Nisreen Rashad Amirdash, Egyptian and Jordanian businesswomen respectively, assure that these social beliefs are major obstacles in their professional career, when they create their own business or when they want to ally with clients or businesses run by men. .

“There is a huge cultural barrier that means we still have inequality in leadership positions in Egypt,” says Ayah Elarief, digital transformation expert and founder of Warrd for Information Technology.

This region has the world’s largest business disparity between men and women with only 5% of businesses run by women compared to a global average of between 23% and 26%, according to data from organizations such as Congressional Research. Service (CRS) and the WAMDA Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Accelerator.

“It may be surprising how many educated men still believe that women shouldn’t work and should stay home to raise their children,” Elarief says.

Nisreen Rashad Amirdash, BS in Electrical Engineering, MBA and Founder and CEO of Sham Projects Solutions, agrees with her colleague and adds that the culture they live in “prefers men in these positions because that is the trend. : gender bias.

Binta Dème, the only female member of the team and the only video game designer in Senegal, and Thierno Ndiaye, the developer of “”Clean my beach””, work on their laptops in Dakar, Senegal. EFE/María Rodríguez/File

The capacity of women is questioned

Countries in the Middle East and North Africa also have one of the lowest rates of female participation in the workplace, according to data from the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM), organizer of the Women Entrepreneurs Forum which was recently held in Barcelona and in which these women participated two businesswomen.

“The culture around us remains the main problem. They keep wondering if you can do it or not. You get asked all the time if you’re good enough or not, a question I really hate, even when it comes from a woman,” Elarief explains.

The World Bank assures that in addition to the glass ceiling that women in this region face in accessing leadership positions, “women entrepreneurs are also potentially surrounded by glass walls, which makes it difficult for them to enter sectors more profitable, traditionally dominated by men.”

“At the beginning, they always asked me if I was going to get married or what I was going to do if I had children… It was a very difficult time. Even when we were still young, we had to hire handsome old people to represent us in order to gain credibility and sign contracts,” says the Egyptian executive.

Legal and social barriers

Nisreen Rashad Amirdash assures that although a bill is under study in Jordan to promote equality in companies, “women’s participation remains low”.

A recent report by consultancy PwC indicates that the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region loses $575,000 million each year due to legal and social barriers to women’s access to employment.

And to these obstacles is added the lack of funding for those who want to undertake.

MENA Alliances Group founder Abeer Abu Ghaith, Palestine's first high-tech entrepreneur, next to the symposium poster ""Empower Live""    held in Malaga, 2016. Businesswomen in the Middle East are stuck between glass walls and ceilings.
The founder of MENA Alliances Group, Abeer Abu Ghaith, Palestine’s first high-tech businesswoman, posed next to the poster for the “Empodera Live” symposium held in Malaga in 2016. EFE /Jorge Zapata.

Businesswomen agree that the lack of female role models in decision-making positions and policies that actually promote women’s entry into the sector are the main challenges facing these countries.

“We need the government to show these women and help them, we need policies that support them and not just written materials that no one reads,” says Elarief, calling on women entrepreneurs to have access to important events where they can meet decision-makers and help them expand their network.

Rashad Amirdash, meanwhile, advocates mentoring girls and young women “to become entrepreneurs.” “You need to explain to them the challenges they might face in the future and how to overcome them.”


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