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To close the gender gap further, the entrepreneurship ecosystem of the Arab world needs more women To close the gender gap further, the entrepreneurship ecosystem of the Arab world needs more women

Women Transforming Arab World's Start-Up Scene

One in three start-ups in the Arab World is founded or led by women, a higher percentage than in the US’s Silicon Valley, a recent World Economic Forum report revealed.

The report suggested that because the technology industry was still relatively new in the Arab world, there was no legacy of it being a male-dominated field and that many entrepreneurs from the region believe that technology is one of the few spaces where everything is viewed as possible. This includes breaking gender norms, making it a very attractive industry for women.

While challenges including societal pressure on women to stay at home, a digital gender gap, and structural disadvantages in fund-raising and investments persist, the report suggested female entrepreneurs were finding new and creative ways to overcome barriers to entering the workforce and starting their own business.

In her book, Fifty Million Rising, Saadia Zahidi notes that digital platforms allow women to be unimpeded by cultural constraints or safety issues, while also lowering the implicit and explicit transaction costs of transport, childcare, discrimination and social censure.

These factors have played a key role as women leverage the internet and reach new markets through online platforms, working from home if they wish.
World Economic Forum suggests that finding a way to tap into this new resource could benefit the region as a whole. Specifically, taking into account the market power of women’s increasing participation in the workforce, which by 2025 could add an estimated USD2.7 trillion to the region’s economy, the growing trend of women in start-ups could be transformative for the Middle East.

The report also notes the rise of women in the Arab world begins early, with girls outperforming their male peers in school.

It gave the example of Jordan, where girls do better than boys in school in nearly all subjects and at every age level, from primary school to university. When it comes to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) subjects, which include skills critical to launching and running a start-up, several Arab countries are among the global leaders in terms of the proportion of female STEM graduates.

According to United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), for example, as many as 34 – 57 percent of STEM grads in Arab countries are women, much higher than in universities in the US or Europe.