Sunday, May 10, 2009

Empowered? Nope. Exasperated!

Through no choice of her own...

I missed this last week - surely I would have commented on it if I had seen it when it was published.

There is a woman, Alia Banaja, who was born, raised and educated in The Sandbox. She established an IT business run exclusively by women in what is world-wide a predominantly male-dominated industry but even more so, here. [What isn't male-dominated in this part of the world?] Apparently she formed a medium-sized company and has done quite a bit of work for some relatively large clients, including King Faisal Specialist Hospital. Alia's company was called "2 The Point."

Unfortunately for Alia - and many other businesswomen in Saudi - she had a problem. "Saudi commercial law... required her to appoint a male legal agent to conduct her affairs with various organizations." Why? Simple. "Women were not expected to deal with our bureaucracies." Sounds so silly, doesn't it? But it is a real dilemma for women in The Sandbox. Apparently Alia was unable to "find a trusted male family member willing to commit themselves to carry on those chores on demand," so her "only option was to hire some male agent... and sign over the power of attorney, granting him full and absolute powers in company matters." WTF?!? You - as a woman - have your own company, but you - as a woman - are NOT allowed to conduct your own business affairs. Call it what you like. I call it control. It all has to do with control, the way I see it.

The article says, "Over the years there have been various reported cases of abuse of power by these so-called legal agents. Many a businesswoman has found herself on the short end of the stick upon discovering that the appointed agent had hauled away the company goods, leaving her in great financial distress and liability." Why is that not surprising? No matter. Alia took matters into her own hands - it is, after all, her business. She "began a campaign to do away with the condition of appointing a male agent. In light of recent progress on the issue of women's rights in the Kingdom [did I miss something? what rights!?!], she and many others... saw no reason why they could not dispense with this requirement." So Alia, along with several other businesswomen, "formulated a movement to abrogate the requirement for a male legal representative... Initially, the focus was on raising public awareness about the potential dangers of such a rule to female business owners." When that didn't work, they decided that they should "close down their businesses if their demands for the removal of this condition were not met."

These women should be feeling empowered. They have conquered many obstacles to be rising stars in the business world - no matter what profession they have chosen - and yet, instead of being empowered, they are virtually "squashed like bugs" at every step of the way by authorities who will not allow them to run their own companies and conduct their own business affairs. I applaud them for making the decision to close their businesses. Surely it has got to be a difficult choice but in this way at least they can say, "No. Enough is enough." What about those male agents? Now they are out of jobs. So, too, unfortunately, are the women who have closed their businesses. I am not an authority on economics, and have never professed to be, but the way I see it, when you have a business you actually help other businesses and those around you. Say you have a IT company. You've purchased computers from someone - or if you've built your own, you've purchased parts from someone. Those suppliers benefit. You rent office space; the landlord benefits. You purchase office furniture and equipment... You need electricity and telephone... Everyone benefits. You close your business and shut your doors? No one benefits.

Alia finally said, "No. Enough is enough." She has shut down her business here in The Sandbox, after being told at a meeting last week by the undersecretary at the Ministry of Commerce that she had to have "a male general manager." "She plans to relocate her enterprise to London. ...she had to inform her employees that she could simply not continue in the face of such a rule, especially when she had been recently cheated... by one of her 'appointed male agents.'"

Here is what she said: "I realize the anguish of the female workers in the company, but the constant pressure exerted by the appointed male agents in my business has disrupted many of my economic interests. I am no longer able to accomplish projects as quickly and efficiently as required, so the closure of my business activity is optimal for the moment. I understand that the closure does not help the economy, but the obstacles to come to work and appoint a male agent was becoming intolerable and burdensome, and causing me a great deal of anxiety." There you have it. Exasperated! All because of some "antiquated requirement."

Good luck with your business in London, Alia!


  1. going galt in the sandbox. great stuff!


  2. The Prophets own wife was a business woman. Where in the Koran does it state that women can't run a business? If they can deal with men during the purchase of unmentionables, this should prove to be no problem.


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