When we talk about the Middle East, we all have certain stereotypes about the region. We tend to reflect what we see in the media such as sandy deserts, camels, women wearing the Abaya, and the generalization of women being oppressed.
However, after living in Jordan for three months, I came to the realization that all these stereotypes are reflections of misrepresentation of the region and its people. During my study abroad program in Amman, I had the opportunity to complete an internship abroad with the company named Oasis 500.
Oasis 500 is an investment and entrepreneurship company, investing in start-ups. It is the first of its kind in the MENA region (Middle East and North Africa) and it is located in Jordan. Oasis 500 is one of many liberal and westernized companies located in the region.
The biggest misrepresentation about the Middle East is the generalization of women being oppressed. Oasis 500 offers a great representation of people holding tight to their culture and family values and yet slowly and surely transitioning to the growing modern world, especially in the city of Amman.
Arab women are playing a major role in this transition into the growing modern world. Oasis 500 is a great example of this powerful change. Oasis 500 consists of the CEO Mr. Youseff Hammidadin and a board of team members of men, which includes marketing manager, chief corporate & business development, and the finance director.
However, the network manager, investment manager, the executive assistant, human resources, and training manager are very successful women playing a major role in the success of the company. These women had a difficult road to achieve such high positions. With their hard work and determination, they were able to achieve these prestigious positions.
“In countries such as Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Egypt there is a lot of participation of about 30-40 ratio of women in the workforce and advancement, and women moving up to middle management and senior positions,” Hammidadin said.
The company consists of the same amount of men and women employees. You can find women wearing the traditional Muslim hijab, with their stylish conservative clothing, to women wearing short sleeves and showcasing their long voluminous wavy hair. The best of both worlds are well-represented in the company, revealing the conservative and modern Arab world.
I had the privilege to interview Dina Abu Nuwar, who is the executive assistant, human resources, and training manager of Oasis 500. Nuwar explained to me the difficulties that a professional Arab woman faces in the Arab world.
“Most Arab women are raised to be housewives,” Nuwar said.
She continues on by explaining to me her first difficulty with transitioning from being a housewife to a professional woman, which was having the mentality of a full-time mother at home, having her kingdom and then having to transition into the working atmosphere where she competes with men that, according to her, “fit in the corporate world.”
Secondly, she explains the struggle of having to prove herself to the men and prove to them that she is qualified for high level positions and having to challenge their current paradigms.
“Before women really had no chance on obtaining good positions in Jordan, specifically in the Arab world,” Nuwar said. “Look at the MENA region right now. Women are actually challenging men for high positions and a lot of women are obtaining the position of CEO, especially in Jordan and Dubai. Definitely a breakthrough in women entrepreneurship and women’s ability to take such positions.”
Nuwar is certainly a great representation of the many hardworking and professional women that are shattering the stereotypes of women being oppressed in the Middle East.
I also took the opportunity to interview Hammidadin and asked him to predict the future for professional women in the Middle East. He concluded with this inspiring outlook about professional Arab women in the corporate world in the future.
“With time, we will see more people accepting to give such accountability to a woman to lead in such a CEO position,” Hammidadin said. “Being a CEO is about more exposure, more diversity, more strategic assessment and options. I think if women were provided with the opportunity, they will excel.”
Overall, there is a bright future for professional women in the Middle East, especially in Jordan where there has been a big advancement in women obtaining high positions, breaking the stereotype.
“We are moving forward, staring to change,” Nuwar said. “We are not there yet, but the change is happening and you can see it. Certain women are obtaining CEO positions or high positions and have a say in decisions. Women are changing the culture and changing the misrepresentation and views that people have towards women in Jordan and in the Middle East.”