The number of GCC women entrepreneurs increased from 4 per cent to 10 per cent between 2011 and 2014 Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Women in the UAE and elsewhere around the region are an unshakeable economic force, with assets worth $385 billion (Dh1.4 trillion) managed by female-led small and medium enterprises, according to a report.

As GCC governments recognise and encourage the pivotal role of women entrepreneurship for economic growth and development, the region has clocked the highest-ever rates of entrepreneurial and business activity by its women, an Al Masah Capital Report reveals.

SMEs led by women manage assets in the GCC worth $385 billion, and are at the forefront of the economic transformation of the region backed by increased literacy and educational opportunities, slowly changing cultural attitudes, and government policies aimed at reducing dependence on foreign labour. Furthermore, availability of diverse employment opportunities, technological advances and information democratization is inspiring several women to start their own businesses. According to the report, women entrepreneurs in the region increased from 4 per cent to 10 per cent in the period 2011-14, significantly narrowing the gender gap in entrepreneurial intentions.

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 states 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, 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 per cent, this number is rapidly rising.

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. Hence, GCC governments have amplified their efforts towards addressing existing challenges faced by women entrepreneurs 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.