By Majd Othman
KUWAIT: According to the Mastercard Index of Women Entrepreneurs for 2019, opportunities for a woman to become an entrepreneur are closely related to where she was born and reached adulthood. Meanwhile, the World Economic Forum revealed in “The Gender Gap “report for 2021 that Kuwait dropped 21 places in the index, which measures equality between women and men in the areas of health, education, economy and politics.
As for sub-indicators, Kuwait ranked 137th globally in economic participation and employment opportunities among both sexes. Bedour Al-Sumait, President of the Business and Professional Women Federation, told Kuwait Times about the difficulties Kuwaiti entrepreneurs face locally.
“Kuwaiti women entrepreneurs face many challenges according to social traditions – finishing paperwork at governmental authorities such as the General Administration of Customs and the Ports Authority is one of them,” she said, adding “there is no law preventing women from visiting such places, but the social pressure that does not accept the presence of women in these places is more powerful.”
Lack of confidence
Sumait rued that the local society still does not have full confidence in women entrepreneurs, mostly in leadership positions, explaining that women entrepreneurs are facing difficulties getting other companies’ attention due to the stereotypical image of the lack of women’s ability to run businesses compared to men. “Men dominate most leadership positions in Kuwaiti government departments. Meanwhile, if a woman manages to reach such a position, she will face excessive scrutiny on her work, until she is removed from the position,” Sumait said. “We have seen many examples of women leaders who succeeded to upgrade their organization to a better position, but they were fought.”
On the role of local women’s societies to achieve women entrepreneurs’ goals, Sumait said regular monthly meetings help a lot in exchanging experiences between entrepreneurs, although “until this day, the government did not open a way to benefit from our experiences,” she lamented.
Sumait called on the Kuwaiti government to give more powers and confidence to women to take leadership positions. “In Kuwait, we lack commercial and financial facilities for Kuwaiti women entrepreneurs that other GCC and Arab countries provide through their chambers of commerce, such as reduced fees on imports and exports and rapid processing of paperwork for women,” Sumait said.
“One of the main obstacles that all Kuwaiti entrepreneurs are facing in Kuwait is red tape in issuing electronic licenses and other documents, which affects our business’ performance,” she said, adding “high rents also do not help the small entrepreneur to start their business.”
Conversely, business entrepreneur Dalal Al-Rayes thinks there are no difficulties facing women in the business field. “When women enter a field that is confined to men, the opportunities for her to succeed are more than in other fields, because she will stay in people’s minds,” she said. “However, there are different challenges between men and women, but I don’t think they are holding us back. As long as we have a strong background, nothing will stop us,” she assured.
Another business entrepreneur, Bazza Al-Zouman, believes women in Kuwait are empowered by the government with lots of opportunities. “Despite the difficulties women entrepreneurs are facing, Kuwait has the economic stability, purchasing power and a well-educated society that understands the success of a women,” she said. “We should focus on opportunities to take advantages of, and not just focus on the challenges.”