Women break into big business in Oman

Published October 1st, 2000 - 02:00 GMT

Driving sports cars as a symbol of their success in a male-oriented society, a new breed of energetic young women has broken the mould of business life in the Sultanate of Oman. 


“I work harder than they (men) do,” said Assilah Al Harthy, the only woman member of Oman’s Chamber of Commerce and Chief Executive of the family-owned Al Harthy shopping complex, to explain her success. 


Women now hold senior management posts in more than half the top 10 trading families of Oman. “At first my father was opposed to my joining the company, until he found out I really meant business,” said Harthy, a 30-year-old graduate of Harvard Business School. Unmarried, she lives at home with her parents. 


Lujaina Mohsin Darwish, another prominent businesswoman, won one of the two seats clinched by women in elections last week to an 83-member consultative council, adding politics to her workload. 


Her office was filled with congratulatory flowers and chocolates. “I think it all depends on how you balance yourself and manage yourself. For me, it won’t be a very difficult task to handle both because it’s my father’s company and I can come whenever I like,” she said. 


“I don’t have any problems doing business as a woman,” said the 31-year-old who holds a director’s post at the Darwish Group of Companies and drives a Jaguar XK8 like her sister and fellow director Areej. 


The younger sister, whose father owns the Land Rover and Jaguar franchises in Oman, said the times have changed. 


“The all-men environment is no longer a factor, as was obvious from Lujaina’s election. There are so many ladies doing well in Oman now,” said the director who is in charge of auditing and computer systems. 


Mohsin Haidar Darwish, who has no sons, enlisted the help of his daughters in 1994 for his trading and contracting empire due to ailing health. 


“Our father left things to us, although of course he taught us, guided and supported us,” said Areej Darwish. 


Oman became in 1994 the first of the six Gulf states to allow women to vote and run for public office, since when it has been followed by Qatar in municipal elections. But with most of the electorate male, women have won only two seats in each of the past three consultative council polls. Apart from three ministerial undersecretaries, Muscat named its first woman ambassador in 1999. 


With more and more Omani women taking up jobs rather than staying at home, including in the public sector, they have also won the right to work as taxi drivers, although they will not be allowed to drive men. 


Harthy, meanwhile, is organising a business forum to be held in February or March 2000 with women speakers invited from around the world. 


“The aim is to help change the mentality of Gulf men towards businesswomen and for women to be taken more seriously. We also want to set up a better business network among women,” she said. 


The shopping complex director, who has ambitions to “go global” with her father’s group of companies active in real estate, called for more Omani women to grab the new opportunities. “Women in Oman have been given the rights but they’re not using them,” she said. – (AFP) 

© Agence France Presse 2000 


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