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Emirati businesswomen count on themselves to succeed

Businesswomen in the UAE may be outnumbered and less wealthy than the men, but they are not daunted.

ABU DHABI // Businessmen in the UAE outnumber their female counterparts and earn more because they inherit more money and have been doing business since long before women entered the workforce, a top Emirati businesswoman said yesterday. "There are women investors, but their number can't be compared to that of businessmen," said Dr Rawda al Mutawa, speaking on the margins a meeting of the UAE Businesswomen Council, which she chairs.

"Men have started doing business a long time ago and many of the big families have inherited their wealth. There are businesswomen who inherited their wealth as well, but they're mostly self-established." According to Shariah law a woman inherits half that of male beneficiaries. There are approximately 11,000 businesswomen in the UAE with investments valued at nearly Dh14.6 billion (US$4bn), according to estimates in 2007.

The figure is less than half the wealth of Abdul Aziz al Ghurair, the chief executive officer of MashreqBank, and family. They were reported by Forbes magazine earlier this year to have total fortune of nearly Dh32.04bn ($8.9bn). Businesswomen are hoping that organising gatherings like yesterday's may help women identify the hurdles facing them. The meetings also provide opportunities for developing ideas for joint projects.

One businesswoman suggested the establishment of an investment fund for businesswomen. But Dr Mutawa argued that establishing such an investment fund would be difficult. "What could be done is joint projects," she said. "Women discuss creating joint ventures all the time." She said Emirati businesswomen had taken part in a project to build a high-rise building in Dubai. It would be rented out as office space.

"Now we are waiting for a meeting with Dubai Government to give them a presentation about the project," she said. The project is expected to cost nearly Dh500 million and will be environmentally friendly. Each of the emirates' chambers of commerce has a council for businesswomen. Members of the local council are also members of the federal council. In Saudi Arabia businesswomen were given the right to participate in the Riyadh Chamber of Commerce and Industry only in 2004.

Dr Mutawa was happy about the condition of businesswomen in the UAE, saying women needed only to work hard to achieve more success. "The Emirati women have reached everything the Arab women aspire to, not through big slogans of women's struggle but through persistence and support of the leadership." She said opportunities were available for Emirati women to take up top positions, citing female dominance in higher education - 70 per cent of university students are women - as a proof for that.

"The leadership has seen the success stories of women and they helped them get top jobs," said Dr Mutawa, who owns the largest translation services company in the UAE. "There are no obstacles for businesswomen in the country. Laws and regulations apply to everyone. "Actually if a businesswoman has some demands officials help meeting them." Thuraya Kamber al Awadi, a businesswoman from Dubai, also stressed the importance of education for women seeking success.

"As long as the woman has the right education and works hard, she can do whatever she wants," she said. mhabboush@thenational.ae

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