One might think that Muslim women, in traditionally Muslim countries, are under severe constrictions when it comes to becoming entrepreneurs. After all, in Saudi Arabia, women cannot drive, and in places like Iran, women are forced to veil themselves under the law. Do such restrictions create undue burdens for women wanting to start and maintain businesses in the Muslim world?
In a study published in International Management Review (Vol. 6 No. 1 2010), John C. McIntosh and Samia Islam of the College of Business and Economics at Boise State University set out to explore the question: “How is female entrepreneurship shaped by Islamic traditions and Shari’a in a conservative Muslim context?” (Shari’a law is traditional Islamic law.) The researchers looked at concepts like wearing the hijab (a scarf Muslim women wear to cover their hair), and whether or not being a women limited one’s social and business contacts due to gender restraints in Islamic society, such as adult women needing to rely on male family members to make contact with male non-family members.
The results? Muslim women are not suffering undue constraints when it comes to entrepreneurship in Islamic countries. Women wearing the hijab did enjoy better access to business networks, and those women with supportive families enjoyed greater social contacts that aided in building up their businesses. However, when it comes to securing funding from banks, wearing a hijab was statistically insignificant from not wearing a hijab for the loan-seeker.
This is not startling news. If one were to look at the business world anywhere, one could say that appropriate cultural dress, supportive families and social contacts are three keys to starting and maintaining a new business.
What does it take to become an entrepreneur? There are many sound answers to this question, but none of them should have anything to do with gender, religion or geography.