A Diamond’s Eye View of the World

a multi-faceted look at the middle east, and the middle west

the power of women?

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on February 17, 2009

I came across this article from The National earlier this weekend, and while I love the recognition that Muslim cultures have historically been much better about giving women control of money and property, I’m not sure that I like this suggestion that Gulf women should put their personal finances to work for “the region’s flagging economies”.

Hence I am pasting the article in below, in hopes that some of you will share your opinions, and give me some new insights!

KUWAIT CITY // Tucked away on the second floor of Kuwait’s stock exchange, a handful of women smoke, gossip and scour the market’s fluctuating prices, a world away from the throngs of male traders below. Women may be on the edge of the Gulf’s financial world, but according to a new report, their vast savings could provide a major boost for the region’s flagging economies.

The report, Discover the Hidden Treasure – Untapped Wealth of GCC Women, released by Advantage consulting in Kuwait last month, said it is not just men who have benefited from the oil money that has poured into the Gulf’s economies in the past 50 years, women have, too. However, instead of being put to work in the markets, most of their savings are in money, land and jewellery.

“It is truly surprising to see such vast potential remain untouched,” said Ms Safa al Hashem, chairman and managing director of Advantage. The social standing of women in the GCC has improved, the report said, but “there is still a long way to go”, Ms al Hashem adds.

Women in the GCC countries control around US$246 billion (Dh904bn) the report said, quoting the Middle East Economic Digest. The report estimates that as much as 60 per cent of women’s personal wealth is held as cash. Despite their important economic role, women in the UAE and Bahrain are far less likely to receive credit than men.

There is a good reason for women to prefer to keep their savings in cash, said Nabila al Anjari, general manager for Al Jazeera real estate development. Often, when “men take care of women’s money, after one or two years, they don’t let them know what is happening in their portfolio,” she said. “In the culture, you shouldn’t ask where your money is, or there will be big trouble. Women lost their money in this way.”

The women in Kuwait’s stock exchange have taken control of their own finances. Until 2003, they could only make deals by telephone. Now, they have a separate room with female brokers and real-time information.

The playing field has not completely levelled out: female traders are still a fraction of the men. “Though a lot of women have cash, they don’t know how to invest it,” Ms al Anjari said.

That may be the case for many women in Kuwait, but the portfolios of others would make seasoned investors tremble.

“I’ve invested around one million dinars (Dh12.6 million), not all my savings, around half of it,” said Nejeeba al Refei, an investor in the bourse. Her portfolio is off limits to male members of her family. “I dominate my money,” she said. “Most of my female friends invest money from their families’ savings and jobs, too.”

Women in the Gulf’s vibrant young cities like to spend on shopping, beauty salons and trendy abayas, but Ms al Refei is confident their increasing participation in society will lead to more involvement in the country’s bourse. “Women know everything nowadays. They are educated, attend forums, everything.

“The money the Gulf’s women hold in their bank accounts will make a difference in the financial markets after three or five years – when they start to invest it more.”

Good deals on the stock exchange for women, like everybody else, are harder to find since growth in the global economy shuddered to a halt. Another woman who invests in the exchange, Umm Mohammed, took a chance by investing with a loan in 2005, before the boom went bust. She has suffered since.

“I invested all my savings and took a loan, now my investments are worth a penny a stock,” she said, and the loan still has to be repaid. “More women invested before the international financial crisis, but now, saving will be the main priority.”

“A lot of women bought property in Dubai hoping to get a steady income from the rent,” Ms al Anjari said, but since property prices plummeted, “a lot of people lost a lot of money”.

Ms al Anjari was at the helm of the all-female holding company Tejarati, which opened in Kuwait in May to tap into the vast stores of female wealth. But faced with the profundity of the global financial crisis, the women decided it was a bad time to take a risk, and pulled the plug.

“We don’t want people to say that women can’t succeed,” she said. “We thank God not one woman lost 1KD, we returned all the money. When the economic environment is ready, we will start again.”

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