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Arab News - July 31, 2010

Report urges policymakers to enact necessary reforms


by Siraj Wahab


A new study on women’s businesses in Saudi Arabia has presented eight recommendations to give Saudi women the same opportunities their sisters enjoy in other Arab nations.

The 68-page report, “Businesswomen in Saudi Arabia: Characteristics, Challenges, and Aspirations in a Regional Context,” was co-authored by Noura Alturki and Rebekah Braswell and published by the Monitor Group and Al-Sayedah Khadijah bint Khuwailad Businesswomen’s Center of the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry. With the support of the Center of Arab Women for Training and Research (CAWTAR) and the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the report compares Saudi women entrepreneurs with their counterparts in five Arab countries: Jordan, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Lebanon and Tunisia.

The report examines the business-enabling environment for women entrepreneurship in Saudi Arabia and highlights the personal characteristics and business profiles of women business owners. The purpose of the study is to bolster understanding of the business and regulatory environment for Saudi businesswomen, to contextualize the situation of Saudi women entrepreneurs through comparison between them and other female entrepreneurs in the region and to identify and address the business challenges these women face in order to create a more supportive environment.

“This focus comes at a time when we are witnessing a rapid and increased investment in our country’s human resources and economic development,” said Princess Adelah bint Abdullah, president, Al-Sayedah Khadijah bint Khuwailad Businesswomen’s Center. “Fundamental to this investment has been the inclusion of regulations that encourage greater involvement of women in our work force. The impact of this support can be seen through the growth, productivity and innovation of Saudi Arabia’s women-owned businesses. My wish is that this report will highlight the progress and determination of these businesswomen and serve as a foundation for researchers interested in the socioeconomic development of our beloved country.”

Although many women-owned businesses may not require high levels of technology, and while word of mouth is an effective marketing tool in Saudi Arabia, the lack of utilization of technology and scalable marketing methods could limit the future scope of Saudi businesswomen’s outreach and efficiency. This may be why prospective businesswomen interviewed identified the need to increase the use and sophistication of marketing and technology tools used as their businesses evolve.

The study made eight specific recommendations to Saudi policymakers to improve the situation of businesswomen. It called for the establishment of a Ministry of Women’s Affairs to monitor the implementation of related royal decrees and to devise a national strategy for women’s transition into the economy and urged that women be appointed as members of the now all-male Shoura Council to ensure that the interests of Saudi businesswomen and women in general are represented.

It also called for an end to the requirement that women must appoint a male manager in businesses that serve both sexes. The study said male and female entrepreneurs should be able to manage their own businesses or to appoint the male or female manager of their choice. The study said the Kingdom’s should ease up on women’s mobility restrictions in terms of public transportation, driving and international travel, noting that women are prohibited from driving, do not have access to public transportation and require the permission of a male family member to travel outside the country.

The study recommended creating registration categories for the types of businesses that are in demand by businesswomen, such as beauty salons and day-care centers, and identify the process for creating new registration categories in the future. It also called for further research on how to increase the effectiveness of businesswomen’s access to government services by improving women sections as well as the main centers in government agencies. Currently, women’s sections in government entities are less efficient in processing women’s requests and may appear to be an added level of bureaucracy for businesswomen, rather than a direct channel for them to receive government services. Further study is needed to identify how to better service women entrepreneurs, and requires evaluating the performance of female sections as well as ensuring that male sections deal more effectively with women’s requests.

The recommendations also included the launch of a nationwide publicity campaign to promote women’s economic participation and support the implementation of existing Royal Decrees along with a call to ease hiring practices for businesswomen in areas that require international women expertise or that are unable to be met by Saudi women labor. This includes studying the possibility of granting work permits to non-Saudi women residing in Saudi Arabia on non-work visas.

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