Omani women face professional hurdles
MUSCAT // There are three female cabinet ministers in Oman's government and there are many female university professors. One would be forgiven for thinking women have made their mark in modern Oman. But such progress is not enough to stop male chauvinism in business entrepreneurship, women say.
Young female entrepreneurs say they struggle to break through in a male-dominated society. They are infuriated that their business proposals are not considered on their own merits and that senior managers of corporate houses ask them out on dates sometimes. "They don't take a lady seriously. First, when I call, I am faced with the difficulties of getting them to meet me. When I do meet them they ask who the male parties involved in the business are," said Fatin al Mawaali, a 26-year-old entrepreneur.
"In addition," Ms Mawaali said, "I get asked out on dates sometimes after or sometimes during the meeting. This is very inappropriate and totally unethical. If I refuse the date, then I am refused the business." Ms Mawaali started Al-Mumayez Training Services in January 2009 after graduating with a degree in English language, but she chose to run her own business instead after a bad experience she had while working for a short spell between school and higher education.
While Ms Mawaali is determined not to let male bigotry stand in her way to success, 29-year-old Rasha al Hammadi struggled for two years to establish herself as a businesswoman before giving up. "My public relations business never stood a chance from the very beginning. Male executives wanted me over to their offices so they could check me out on a pretext that they want to see my proposals. Some would ask me out for dinner and a couple even wanted to marry me. It is as ridiculous as that!" Ms al Hammadi said.
She sold her PR business last month after losing about 25,000 Omani rials (Dh240,500). From the proceeds of the sale of her company, she is now contemplating whether to get into a trade that would not involve men making decisions on contracts. "If I have a message to men, then all we ask is to be given an opportunity as business people and not as women who can be exploited sexually. Women can contribute more than we have so far if such men change their attitudes," Ms Hammadi said.
The role of women has changed since Oman's manpower reforms began in the 1980s and increasing globalisation opened up the traditional and largely conservative Gulf country to the rest of the world. There are an increasing number of women in the workforce, more girls in school, more women holding senior positions in corporations and in government and half a dozen organisations representing the interests of women than during any time in the history of the country.
And despite women serving as cabinet members - they hold the higher education, social development and tourism portfolios - Oman remains patriarchal. But Ms Hammadi said women themselves are to blame, despite the relative success they enjoy in a changing society in terms of education and employment. She labelled organisations representing women's interests such as the Omani Women Business Association as too timid to make a real difference.
"There has been many forums organised by the Women Business Association, but none of the delegates addressed issues of sexual harassment suffered by women in the hands of men in business environment. They talk about opportunities in general terms but avoid the real issue that prevent women from making it big in business," Ms Hammadi said. Members of the independently run Women Business Association declined to comment.
Yusra al Jabri, 31, a proprietor of two hairdressing salons and a boutique, said: "The Women Business Association's forums are sponsored by big corporate houses. The association's directors don't want to bite the hand that feeds them. They would naturally not address issues that will embarrass senior corporate managers." Ms Jabri is successfully running her business because she says the line of her trade does not depend on men.
"Hairdressing and boutiques are retail businesses exclusively for women and no men are involved. I have no fear of a man making a pass at me just to do me favour. Women are safe from the clutches of prejudiced men in these businesses." Ms Hammadi said women should not be confined to choosing a "safe business" and snuff out their entrepreneurial dreams. "Women must not give up, like I did, but press on to make their dreams come true. If we stick to only boutiques and beauty salons then we will compete with each other and drive ourselves out of business."
A senior manager of a corporate house admitted that some men take advantage of their positions in dealing with business women. "It is a sad fact that some men do want something in return from women in exchange of a contract. But in most cases I know of, women are reluctant of lodging a complaint for fear of retribution," Abdulrahman al Khalidi, contract manager of the Muscat-based Capital Securities Co, said. Ms Jabri said that the reason women do not lodge a complaint is that men rally together to make sure the culprits are never exposed, just reprimanded quietly. There is also the fear of being blacklisted from other contracts a woman is chasing. @Email:email@example.com
Published: May 23, 2010 04:00 AM