x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Guide to business is right at home in the UAE

Women from Emirati families face problems when starting up their own businesses, especially balancing commitments to families with work, so being based at home and focusing on traditional skills makes a lot of sense.

The new guide to businesses run by women from home in the UAE has been compiled by the General Women’s Union. One such business produces uniforms for hospital and school staff in a local style. Fatima Al Marzooqi / The National
The new guide to businesses run by women from home in the UAE has been compiled by the General Women’s Union. One such business produces uniforms for hospital and school staff in a local style. Fatima Al Marzooqi / The National

Starting a business is always as challenging as it is exciting. But for local women, balancing the demands of family and culture while getting a new venture on its feet can make it more of a struggle than for many.

To help them succeed, a guide to help boost businesses that Emirati women run from home has been published in Abu Dhabi.

Compiled by the General Women's Union (GWU), it collects the contact details of family businesses and women of different ages to support them in marketing their small enterprises. The aim of the guide is to bring products whose origin may lie in Emirati tradition, the needs of society or just the talent of the women themselves, to a much wider audience.

Many of the women gave up work when they had children then found it difficult to return, partly because of their social obligations.

"I created a business for work uniforms of people working at hospitals, schools and as maids," says Ayesha Al Muhairi, an Emirati from Abu Dhabi. "The demand increased by 90 per cent after the distribution of the guide, which had my name and business it.

"I was contacted by big institutions who asked us to supply them, and we were able to give them what they needed, down to the smallest details of the logo."

Mrs Al Muhairi started her business five years ago with the help of the GWU, which was established by Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak, wife of the late President Sheikh Zayed.

She sees a lot of potential in the local market because of the determination of Emirati women and the quality of the products they create. And, she says, she has a dream to "reach out not only to the customers of the Emirates but to the those in the Arabian Gulf as a whole".

Before the official guide, some of women relied only on word of mouth or even BlackBerry's Messenger service to attract custom. "After the distribution of the guide, it has became more efficient," says Ayesha Al Mazroui, another local woman, who makes what she describes as French perfumes, but with the addition of local Arabic essences such as oud.

Mrs Al Mazroui says it is important for society to support local women and to appreciate that their circumstances may be different because of the culture.

"It is the culture of Islam and the Emirates to take care of women at all stages of their lives. When she is young and has children that she needs to support, she needs to be in the house to raise them. At an older age going to a governmental job is tiring and may be unsuitable for her social obligations. Women here are never neglected. There is always the chance to give and do more, and get the appreciation for the work and products you provide to society."

"A mother, Emirati or not, is a job important for every society. Here it is cherished so much. That is why an initiative like this puts their efforts on a bigger map that gets recognised. From her house, she can be the mother and a businesswoman who also adds much value to the her society."

Emirati products, she says, are much more in tune with what is needed in local homes, rather than international brand names. Locally made products, such as cloth and perfumes, reflect both the old and modern. "The products you use are the spirit you surround yourself with."

Many of the businesses highlighted in the guide blend older Emirati traditions with modern tastes and trends. Talli-work - a form of needlework traditionally done at home - can be used to create items ranging from shoes to T-shirts, while designs woven as a style known as Al Sadu can be used to make handbags.

Reinventing these traditions for the 21st century can be culturally as well as economically viable. Talliwork, practised by Bedouin women across the Arabian Peninsula, was added to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation's (Unesco) list of "intangible heritage" categories "in need of urgent safeguarding" in 2011.

For some families, the way their ancestors lived is still considered as the soul of the family. What might appear to an observer as a modern might have its roots something practised for many generations, Mrs Al Mazroui says. It is this desire for traditional items which helps many of the women's businesses do so well.

"We like to use thing from everyday life, from our environment, heritage and traditions," she says. "And we like to teach our children that. And they love it."

Fatima Al Rumaithi, the leader of the project at the GWU, agrees. "This idea is born from the vision that Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak has for women of this country, for everyone to have the support needed to carry on what they choose. This is also a way to support some families and nurture their hobbies into something bigger," she says.

Since 1997 the Women's Union has organised exhibitions for women to display their products. But as demand has grown, so has the need for a comprehensive guide that puts all of the information in one place.

"The start of this project was for women who did not have big capital for their businesses, just a simple hobby for a small community," says Noura Al Suwaidi, the head of the women's union. "Now however, we are very proud at how those small ideas have been evolving into greater products and bigger projects, with a rising number of successful women who have been juggling family and business throughout the years."

Getting word out to friends and family was easy, says Mrs Al Rumaithi, but it became more difficult when trying to attract business from outside of those circles.

"It took us a while to gather everyone who has a small business and wanted to expand. By allowing those who wanted to appear in the guide to submit their details online, women can decide exactly how much information they want to provide about themselves," she says.

"Some ladies gave their full name, some had a name for their business. Some had their numbers to contact and some just gave a BlackBerry Pin or an email."

Divided into chapters, the guide - which is so far only available in Arabic - lists the details of business that include dukhoon perfumes, handicrafts, food items, clothes and abayas - but it is not just about tradition products. The enterprise of modern Emirati women also extends from catering and party-planning to beauty services.