Small and medium-sized businesses led by women in the Gulf are worth $385 billion and are part of an economic transformation of the region, according to a new report.
The Al Masah Capital study said the pivotal role of women entrepreneurship for economic growth and development is widely being recognised and encouraged by GCC governments.
It said the female-led business charge is being driven by increased literacy and educational opportunities, slowly changing cultural attitudes, and government policies aimed at reducing dependence on foreign labour.
The report comes as the UAE leadership has an aim to raise the country’s ranking to one of the top 25 countries in the world for gender equality by the year 2021.
The UAE Gender Balance Council said the UAE has emerged as a model for women’s empowerment due to the steadfast support provided by the country’s leadership in fostering an environment that provides women opportunities to actively contribute to national progress.
Al Masah said the availability of diverse employment opportunities, technological advances and information democratisation is inspiring several women to start their own businesses.
According to the report, women entrepreneurs in the region increased from 4 percent to 10 percent in the period 2011-14, significantly narrowing the gender gap in entrepreneurial intentions.
It added that this has spurred regional governments to collaborate with non-governmental bodies to identify and develop programmes to support women entrepreneurial intentions and activities.
The report said that women in the GCC are fast approaching gender equality in business start-up intentions, possibly resulting in greater parity in the next wave of entrepreneurship in the region.
However, Al Masah warned that this calls for increased formal entrepreneurial education and training to bring their ideas to fruition and successfully own and manage established businesses. Although the success rate stands at 40 percent, this number is rapidly rising.
The report said high unemployment rates, limited access to formal finance, regulatory and social constraints, striking a work-life balance, inadequate training and access to information, and lack of female-friendly entrepreneurship policies are key barriers and challenges faced by women entrepreneurs in the GCC.
Al Masah said GCC governments have amplified their efforts towards addressing these challenges and have introduced a range of empowerment measures across the political, business and educational arenas such as marked regulatory improvements, lower entry and exit barriers, increased representation in chambers of commerce, and improved female literacy rates.
As a result, adult female participation in the GCC's labour force in 2015 increased to 32 percent, the report added.