I downloaded Arab Women Rising for free from Amazon because I knew I wasn’t getting the whole story about developments in the Middle East in American media. The only news I hear about Arab women in the Middle East deals with suppression and discrimination. This book deals with Arab woman entrepreneurs starting their own businesses in Arab nations.
Arab Women Rising was published by Knowledge@Wharton which is the online business journal of The Wharton School, an influential business school at the University of Pennsylvania founded in 1881 by businessman Joseph Wharton.
Although an American institution published the book, the co-authors Nafeesa Sayeed and Rahilla Zafar are Arab women who interviewed the subjects of this celebratory collective biography. According to the introduction, far more Arab women are starting businesses than Arab men. Essma Ben Hamida, who co-founded Enda Inter-Arabe with Michael Cracknell in Tunisia in order to provide micro-loans for new businesses, says women tend to be more receptive to receiving small loans than men.
On the other hand, I was very interested to learn that funding for Crowdvoice.org started by Esra Al-Shafei to provide information about protest movements throughout the world, is primarily funded by the Omidyar Network which was started by Pierre Omidyar, the founder of EBay, and by the Shuttleworth Foundation founded by Mark Shuttleworth in order to promote open access to information on the internet.
Yet how do Islamic leaders react to these women starting businesses? Many women are starting businesses that are completely compatible with Islam. The most notable example is Best Mums, a business that makes modesty covers for breastfeeding, founded by Sally Sabri and Doaa Zaki in Egypt. The authors tell us that Islamic sheikhs consider these modesty covers very Islamic because their consensus is that women should remain covered while breastfeeding even in front of other women. This demonstrates that a woman’s business can produce products for other women that support Islamic practice.
I was impressed by Yasmin Helal’s organization, Educate-Me which is described on Synergos, a website associated with AWSI, Arab World Social Innovators. The approach of Educate-Me is called “dream driven development”. The participants in the program, who are impoverished children, are asked what they want to learn. Then they are expected to think about implementation of the project. I was reminded of Jhumki Basu, an educator who was a pioneer of democratic science teaching in the United States. I reviewed her biography, A Mission To Teach on The Unmasked Persona’s Reviews here. I think that if Jhumki Basu were still alive, she would be a strong supporter of the efforts of Educate-Me to help young people from poor families to realize their dreams.
I am thankful that Knowledge@Wharton decided to be the bearer of good news about women in the Arab world by publishing Arab Women Rising. I recommend this book to readers who are interested in the Middle East, women entrepreneurs and innovators in general.