A recent survey conducted by NAMA Women Advancement, in partnership with UN Women, found that 77.6% of women-owned businesses (WOB) in the UAE are led by those under the age of 40.
Of the 1,000 female business owners who took part in the survey, 48.8% are CEOs and 61.4% are sole proprietors, a clear indicator that Emirati entrepreneurs, particularly young women, are making significant contributions to the GDP in emerging economic sectors.
This survey was a part of the report ‘Women-Owned Businesses in the United Arab Emirates: A Golden Opportunity’, published by NAMA Women Advancement in partnership with The Economic Empowerment Section of the UN Women, which addressed the realities and prospects of Emirati women’s contributions to the UAE’s comprehensive development, enhancing the sustainability of economic sectors and diversifying sources of national income.
Strong business ecosystem
The report lauded the UAE’s sustainable and resilient entrepreneurial ecosystem, pointing out the massive strides the UAE has undertaken to ensure gender parity through a series of legal, policy and institutional measures over the past decade, including the simplification of access to finance. The UAE was ranked top in the world in the 2021/2022 Global Entrepreneurship Mentorship (GEM) report in terms of countries that allow for better ease of doing business.
The report indicated that Sharjah aspires to build a sustainable economy by fostering youth entrepreneurship and emerging tech-led industries, enhancing competitiveness and improving business opportunities for MSMEs. Hence, a steady increase in newly registered businesses.
Rise in the number of women-owned businesses
The report revealed that the number of female entrepreneurs is rising significantly, with 25,000 Emirati women entrepreneurs owning 50,000 trade licences valued at AED 60 billion in 2021 compared to 23,000 Emirati women running businesses worth AED 50 billion in 2019 and 11,000 Emirati businesswomen running businesses worth AED 12 billion in 2010.
Respondents stated they were confident in their business growth plans and expressed the importance of securing financing sources. They stressed the importance of engaging women in organisations that provide comprehensive support for entrepreneurs through networking, training and advisory services.
Respondents also expressed a need for training and capacity-building in business skills including commerce and digital marketing skills, financial accounting and management tools, as well as acquiring knowledge on making proposals in response to bids and tenders. Meanwhile, the report also stated that 13% are co-owners with more than 51% of shares, and 25% are business leaders with less than 51% of shares, while 72% of WOBs comprise micro-enterprises, 24% are small enterprises and 3% are medium enterprises.
The report also provides a comprehensive overview of the realities of small and medium WOBs, and the possibilities of securing financing, in addition to suggestions and recommendations on ways to achieve them and advance businesses, pointing out the massive strides the UAE has undertaken to ensure gender parity through a series of legal, policy and institutional measures over the past decade, in both public and private sectors.
Main legislation driver
The report pointed out that businesswomen councils in the country were the main drivers for national business legislation encouraging women’s participation in entrepreneurship through micro businesses. Hence, Emirati and non-Emirati women were encouraged to thrive and to start their entrepreneurial journey with minimal set-up requirements.
It also stressed that significant women-focused initiatives for SMEs and home-based activities gave access to thousands of women entrepreneurs to set up their businesses, including the launch of Badiri Education and Development Academy and Irthi Contemporary Crafts Council by NAMA in Sharjah, ‘Sougha’ and ‘Mubdi’ah’ by the Abu Dhabi Businesswomen Council, and ‘Intilaq’ by the Dubai Chamber of Commerce.
Opportunities, challenges, and needs
A UN Women–NAMA research titled ‘Women-Owned Businesses in the UAE: Opportunities, Challenges and Needs’ indicated that 41.2% of female business leaders stated that the main challenge they face in the UAE is the lack of access to markets; 38.8% noted access to finance, while 33.5% noted high market competition.
Commenting on the report and study, HE Reem BinKaram, Director of NAMA, said: “This report represents an unquestionable proof of women’s role as a major component of development in the UAE. We are working to form a comprehensive ecosystem that nurtures women’s great results that contribute to the national economy, which is a pillar on which institutions under NAMA were established under the directive of Her Highness Sheikha Jawaher bint Mohammed Al Qasimi, wife of the Ruler of Sharjah and Chairperson of the SCFA. We seek to create an environment that cares for women, and provides them with opportunities to engage in comprehensive development, whether she is an at-home mother or grandmother taking care of her children, or an entrepreneur or a business owner that provides opportunities for advancing the local economy, and strengthen women’s status as a key player in bolstering the UAE’s standing.”
For her part, Dr. Moza Al Khayal, Director of the UN Women-UAE Liaison Office for the GCC, said: “Despite the challenges facing women entrepreneurs, the continuous governmental support has provided opportunities to gain extensive expertise through training initiatives organised around the country that helped establish a comprehensive ecosystem that guides women towards a bright future and accomplishments that the report has highlighted.”