Published on Arab Voices

The musings of a woman in a man’s world - Part Two

This blog has been written by Shereen Allam, an entrepreneur, adventurer and the founder of two startups in Egypt.  She is also the founder of AWTAD, the Association for Women's Total Advancement & Development, a non-profit association in Egypt to help support and empower women entrepreneurs reach their full potential. Shereen also founded BabyBoom, a manufacturing company for baby's clothes and Eco-Tek, an innovative printer cartridge recycling company, where she managed to scale Eco-Tek in a very short period of time. She is the president of AWTAD and mentors, empowers and offers advice to entrepreneurs in Egypt. Read Shereen’s previous blog here.

ImageI am a business woman, an entrepreneur from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.  I managed to start and grow two companies and a nonprofit in my lifetime. Does this show gender equality? I was neither welcome nor unwelcome by men into this field of work but I believed in something and made it happen.  Can such an attitude contribute to changing the reality for women?  According to the World Bank study it shows that the number of women who did something similar to what I have done is minimal.  So I am a small percentage! Fascinating and it certainly feels good.

But wait! This is not about me but about millions of women in the MENA region who are living the reality of so much inequality due to an ever-shrinking private sector and more so, in its inability to host as many women as men.  Many business owners still think that women are a bad investment because of their natural role in life as mothers and wives.  But this never stopped million others all over the world so why in the MENA region?  Are MENA mothers and wives not capable of being professional? Are they less able to multi task than other women in the world?  Of course not, but women are painted by society as home beings only and are frowned upon when they are ambitious or insist on pursuing a profession.  In case you have not heard – WOMEN can be home beings and office beings by nature and do have all the natural skills to excel in both! What happened recently in the Arab Spring countries showed what role women can play and how effective they are in realizing change; yet, our systems are not supportive of this change nor of course of women.  So what can women do? TAKE BIG STEPS towards keeping yourselves in the race – create businesses, employ other women and be supportive of women’s needs. IS this a myth or can it happen? Women:  will you be there for each other?

When women contribute to economic growth they are hard to belittle. So, women please stay in the race by creating businesses and earning big money so that it becomes very hard for society to push you to the side lines.  Also advocate your needs so that you can balance your dual lives and kill the myth that you are not here to stay.  Ask for day care centers close to work locations, flexible work hour schemes and most important of all, demand that your capabilities and skills are trusted and appreciated.

Of course having a sluggish economy does not help any existing inequalities but if it makes you women feel any better, both genders get hit hard. So when the going gets tough both men and women are struck equally and both have to find survival solutions: CREATE BUSINESSES.

Think Equal and create businesses and do not forget as women owners, hire other women and as women investors, invest in other women’s businesses and as women mentors, mentor other women. Women, support each other … or no one will.

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