Yemeni businesswomen, series of challenges [Archives:2003/634/Business & Economy]

May 5 2003

Fahmia Al-Fotih

The Yemeni woman's life is full of many challenges. Between failure and success just a few Yemeni women could hardly to be seen in the view. To shed light on this issue an interview is conducted with one of those women who challenged and attacked social barriers. She is the prominent businesswoman and successful and well-known professor at Sana'a University. She is Dr. Najat Mohammed Jumaan, the vice-manager of MAJ Corp. and the manager of Yemen Feed Company.

Q: Could you give us a brief account on yourself?
A: I was born in Rada'a and studied in Aden from the primary school until the 7th grade. Because of the former socialist system there and as my father was a private-sector businessman we had to move to Sana'a and here we started. I joined intermediate school and high school and really I was very optimistic and was looking for a successful future. When I was a young girl in school and asked what I wanted to be, the first answer came to my mind was to be a doctor or an engineer. Of course we understood at that time if you wanted to be something, we had to study very hard. I decided to study medicine. However, at that time people were encouraged to study in socialist countries like Russia or Romania. But I wanted to study either in the UK or the US. So I went to Britain for one year in which I did my English courses and then because of family reasons I came back to Sana'a. That time the best college was commerce and economic. So I joined that college and I did very well and I got my bachelor degree with honors. So that encouraged me to proceed in my studies. I proposed to my father that I wanted to study MA degree in the States and he did not mind of course as he encouraged me to do whatever I wanted in the frame of what was accepted in the society.
Initially it was very hard to travel alone due to some cultural prejudice that girls could not go on their own. My father solved that problem by asking my brothers to accompany me. I was lucky to find these circumstances to help me to go to the States and did my MA degree in management. Then I came back to Sana'a and because my father was a businessman I was eager to master this activity. I always listened to my father about his business and how he did his business and success and I felt proud of that. That encouraged me to follow his same track. Of course when I finished my bachelor degree I was one of the best students and asked to be a teacher in University. I was happy then even though some faculties had some little bit prejudice against women, most of girls could not continue their higher studies. Of course they understood there were some cultural obstacles and may be economic problems related to the society. But for me the circumstances were so good; my father encouraged me and my doing-well in the University also helped. So I was nominated and entered the university teaching field. Of course that posed a challenge to me at that time as it was said woman could not do anything. So I took the challenge in my mind and I wanted to convey a message that women could do anything they want if they were given a good chance and opportunity to prove themselves. So I went to the States and did my MA and joined again the commerce faculty. Then I went to Egypt even though my father was hesitant for how I could go there alone but I was lucky once more. So, there I was able to obtain a PhD also in management. I got specialized in finance and my theme was “The Effect of Environment on the Private Sector”.
I came back to be a professor at Sana'a University, teaching management. I have proved to others that women can get PhD. I had also to face a challenge that women cannot be in the field they want. Therefore, I wanted to be in the business field. I tried my best but I still have some concerns in my business. I established my new company in the manufacturing filed. I have achieved some good points at the same time faced with challenges. The good aspect is that I can recognize the qualified persons and know how to deal with people and to deal with money. But at the same time I have challenges with the environment. Some people do not trust women as businesswomen. We try to convince them that we can do the job. However, it still needs a little bit hard work.

Q: What are the main difficulties that businesswomen usually face?
A: Women are facing challenges if they want to enter the market and participate in economic development as well as to improve their well-being. They need to fulfill the qualification and they can enter the market as long as they are skilled and how the way of thinking is and understand how the system is. For myself, I look into myself. If I look outside, of course there are so many of obstacles. What I can do where I can go. Most common impediments are cultural. People do not evaluate them very well. They look at them that they can do the job efficiently and they are not motivated. But I think these judgments of the society underestimate the woman.capability. If they look at the woman as weak they will find a weak woman. But if they look at her as strong and support this point they will find a creative woman. But it becomes a trend to say that woman can do any job but unfortunately she is not given a chance or supported. We do not want words, we want actions

Q: Has the business life affected you personally?
A: Actually, it has added to my experience and other aspects add values to the person. For example some internal characteristics those persons are to be determined and to be good. I always like to face challenges. When I wanted to get my MA I pursued it by getting the PhD. Difficulties can be faced by women or men. But what we want to do is to be determined and you have to be clever enough to choose what you want to do. Sometimes there are things you should not do even if you want to do them because they will be harmful. For women to pursue their education is excellent and search for best job is excellent as well as to improve themselves is excellent too.

Q: Do you think that Yemeni women have achieved all their rights?
A: This is good point. First of all what women want to do and what are the rights they want. They have to specify these rights and have to go for them. We do not want slogans like everybody says that. What are the principles and chances we want? We have to determine and then go. Nobody will stop women from what they want if it is consistent with and useful for the society. If you then want to do anything no one will stop you. If you want to be a doctor, you can be a doctor. No one will stop you.

Q: What are the most significant activities you have participated in?
A: As I joined activities in Rada'a I was participating in opening and supporting associations for women development. Besides, I worked in associations concerned with the handicapped.
I participated in some conferences in New York and Belgium on young entrepreneurs, which also added challenges to me as those conferences targeted young entrepreneurs in less-developed countries and there were 300 participants from 100 countries and I was nominated and awarded. This has given me more strength to complete the course I have started. As a professor at the Sana'a University I have participated in scientific conferences in Amman and Egypt. I had a chance to visit Germany with Taiz Chamber of Commerce. I am member of Kanan Association too. As I am also a vice-manger for finance affairs at MAJ Corp. and General Manager of Yemen Feed Company.
I have taken part in GTZ activities concerned with small projects, mostly devoted to women issues. I have established my own project that focuses on how to connect between theories and applications.

Q: To what extent your ambitions go?
A: Ambitions do not stop at a certain point. As you achieve one, you want to achieve another. Earlier in my life I was ambitious to finish my higher studies. I finished my MA and started to think about PhD and then to establish my own project and make it successful. I am also eager to see people around me successful too.

Q: What is your message to the young Yemeni women?
A: Yemeni young women, if they want to be secure, they should get educated well and have a job and a dignity in life. They have to participate in economic development that comes by hard work, planning and learning. They should not waste time. They have to engage in race with time if they want really to pursue the wheel of development. Earlier is the better. And this message is not addressed only to women but men are also included.