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Women Entrepreneurship Lowest in MENA Region: How a Guide Aims to Change That

The rate of female entrepreneurs has been globally expanding in recent years, and women of the Arab world are part of the process as well. However, the number of women in the Arab world owning businesses is still 30 percent lower than other countries, according to a report released in 2017 by online payment platform Payfort.

A new initiative by the Egyptian Center for Economic Studies (ECES), in partnership with the National Council for Women (NCW) and Canada’s Embassy in Egypt, launched a guide for potential female entrepreneurs in Egypt to help them get started with their businesses Ð a project that the entities agreed on in 2016.

Today, the guide is available in the offices of the NCW and government entities in different governorates across Egypt, outlining the different stages of a business, valuable opportunities and services, the steps of building a business and contact details of useful resources and stakeholders, as well as a psychometric test through which one can determine whether they are ready to start their own business or not.

“The proportion of women in entrepreneurship in Egypt is the lowest in the MENA region, as only 15 percent of businesses are owned by women,” Canada’s ambassador to Egypt Jess Dutton says. “Women are constrained by social barriers and lack of access to info, lack of access to financial services, lack of access to markets and technology.”

Bringing the guide to life
In 2017, Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi endorsed the plan of the Egypt Vision 2030, which also stipulates the empowerment of women, in alignment with Egypt’s Constitution.

The key pillar here is to provide women with equal rights and opportunities. The second pillar is the economic empowerment of women, stressing the importance of women’s financial inclusion.

Only 15 percent of businesses in Egypt are owned by women

The ECES has conducted a field study in 13 governorates on the obstacles and factors affecting the economic empowerment of women and a legal study to identify the gap and discuss what should be done in order to further assist women in starting their own businesses.

Executive director of the ECES Abla Abdel Latif tells Business Forward that meeting about 164 women as part of the field study made the center realize that the key drivers of change were four: openness and exposure to other experiences, availability of information and knowing more about relevant initiatives, availability of technology, and the surrounding environment.

“The only driver that we can provide and boost is the availability of information, and that’s where the ECES stepped in,” Abdel Latif continues.

Why women entrepreneurship?
The latest Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) Egypt National Report released in November 2017 revealed that female entrepreneurs are more necessity-driven than their male counterparts.

During the launch of the guide, Dutton confirms that women’s economic empowerment is key for economic growth in every single country and has strong economic returns. This includes helping them start a business and find employment and trainings.

A study published by Harvard Business Review suggested that more women in a team means a smarter team, not to mention the several studies that highlighted the role of women in economic development and growth.

However, in its quarterly report, the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics (CAPMAS) announced that far more women remained unemployed in the first quarter of 2018. The rate of unemployment among women was 22 percent against 7.3 percent among men.

“Estimations pointed out that the GDP can increase by 30 percent if women are active and involved in the economic scene,” Abdel Latif explains.

In conclusion, vice chairman of the ECES Tarek Tawfik affirms that the circumstances are encouraging for women empowerment, as multiple initiatives, that are not merely symbolic but real, are arising.

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Toqa Ezzidin is a junior writer at Business Forward. She has been a reporter at Egyptian Streets and Daily News Egypt, and worked as a freelance writer for economic news portal Decypha and Arab World-focused outlet Your Middle East. A graduate of Cairo University’s Faculty of Mass Communication Ð English Section, Toqa was also a research assistant at Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalism (ARIJ), an intern at Mada Masr and participated in several journalism study tours and forums.