x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Women entrepreneurs are making their mark in Ras al Khaimah

The stature of women in business has grown with that of RAK as a commercial centre.

Anna Zacharias RAS AL KHAIMAH // Mozah al Zahmi is a trailblazer. She is an Emirati woman from a small mountain village. She is also one of RAK's first businesswomen. Until recently, the emirate's business scene had clung to traditions that had no room for women. Now the stature of women in business has grown with that of RAK as a commercial centre. But coming from a remote rural setting, where there is still opposition to women working among men, holds more challenges than it does for city women looking to succeed in their own business. Ms al Zahmi comes from Habhab, a mountain village of 500 people. The eldest of 10 sisters and six brothers, she graduated in business from RAK Women's College and became the first woman from her village to start a business. Four years ago, when her sister graduated from university, Ms al Zahmi surprised her father with two cakes - one for her sister, the second to celebrate the printing business she had set up in secret. "The difficulty was to persuade my family to give me trust and to work with the public," she said. "My father did not believe I could open my own business. He did not mind but he thought it would be difficult and painful for me. "In Dubai and Abu Dhabi, women started working much earlier. In Ras al Khaimah, it is still a little closed. In the villages, when any woman comes out to work, they start thinking, 'Why? Maybe she's not got money? Maybe she's not married?' If I keep my ear to what people say, I would never do anything." Fatema al Mazrooei, a cashier in her mid-20s at Emirates International Exchange, said her decision to seek a career had sparked conflicting opinions among the men in her family. "My brother still doesn't like me working," Ms al Mazrooei said. "He gets angry when I talk to men, but my father supports me." Young women feel working is a way to care for their family, as a man's salary no longer covers costs for a large family. But reputation is still important and women need to know their families support them. "I think what I am now is all from my husband," said Maryam Sharif, the head of marketing for a hardware company and a mother of three who married at the age of 14. "First I am a mother, secondly I am a wife, third I am a student, fourth I am a businesswoman. My grandfather, my father, my brothers were all businessmen. They supported me. But I am the first businesswoman. "Six years ago, people became more open-minded. Nowadays, you don't have to stay at home. You can shop, you can work, you can drive." A driving force behind helping businesswomen develop in the emirate is Sheikha Hana bint Juma'a, the wife of Sheikh Saud bin Saqr, Crown Prince and Deputy Ruler of Ras al Khaimah. At a recent business fair run by RAK Women's College, Sheikha Hana offered entrepreneurs awards worth a total of Dh100,000 (US$27,225) for originality, financial success and professionalism. "Learning is just the first step," said Sheikha Hana. "I studied business and accounting and I know that practising is the most important thing." Sheikha Hana said the RAK business environment had totally changed and now was the perfect time for young women to start firms. "I want them to start," she said. "In Dubai ... everyone around you is doing business and you are brought up to be a businesswoman. Here, it's shy." Sheikha Hana has set up a business centre for students and alumni from RAK Women's College. It offers a free business licences, locations, mentoring and access to college resources. "Sheikha Hana is a great support for our business graduates and they need to have strong, determined role models," said Amal al Qassimi, the college's supervisor of student affairs. "When I first started working here we had no nationals working at the college. Ten years ago some parents thought it was enough for women to go to school and then stay at home. Now parents feel it is important for them to get certified and support the family. "Economically, Ras al Khaimah has changed. There is a greater demand from the job market and we need more educated women. Now if you go to private agencies, you will see our graduates. "We can say we're competing with other emirates. We don't want to be behind. As nationals, we can help the community reach the top." azacharias@thenational.ae