Capabilities and (Missed) Opportunity for Women's Entrepreneurship in Kuwait
AbstractKuwait offers a powerful context for investigating the entrepreneurial cultures developing in Gulf countries in response to the concurrent trends of pursuing economic diversification and efficiency on the one hand, and the constraints posed by cultural narratives that maintain inequality between the sexes. Further, such trends have “created barriers to and opportunities for the economic empowerment and inclusion of women” (Young 2016). Kuwait exemplifies many of the paradoxical experiences of women in the region; despite high educational achievements for women and boasting the first C-level Inclusion and Diversity Officer, Kuwait ranks 125th out of 144 countries on gender equality in economic participation and opportunity (GGGR 2017). This makes Kuwait an apt location within the Gulf to explore entrepreneurship as a tool for building women’s economic and social empowerment.
In Kuwait, a country that has established a right to work for its citizens, cultural narratives prioritize public sector jobs which are seen as secure, well-paying, and better for balancing family obligations. All citizens are guaranteed work in the public sector, leaving the government bloated and swimming in unrealized productivity. Kuwait is also facing a demographic explosion of youth who will be seeking opportunities in the coming years. In response to these issues, Kuwait has focused on the development of entrepreneurship opportunities, including establishing a National Fund that acts as trainer, incubator, and financier for nascent entrepreneurs. The National Fund, however, has no specific focus on recruiting women.
As social norms, institutional discrimination, and gender identity define the activities and persons that are entrepreneurial, they have an incredible impact on female enterprise motivations, characteristics, and success. As compared to the growing attention to “mumpreneurs” in other regions where women must balance work and family balance, women in Kuwait often balance their public sector employment with a side, or hobby, enterprise in order to appease family members or because of structural barriers in the formal economy. The Kuwaiti context where women have the right to work but are socially pressured into the public sector is an apt context to uncover the relationship between entrepreneurship and capabilities. By utilizing the capabilities approach to analyze entrepreneurship as a course of empowerment for Kuwaiti women, this research seeks to show the ways in which women in the Gulf Peninsula are negotiating for enhanced capabilities and finding diverse, creative, and transformative ways to interject their own narratives of empowerment as part of a globalized society.