International Women’s Day: Equality through entrepreneurship

Five tips for budding female entrepreneurs

A campaign poster from a Lebanese anti domestic violence organization

Tomorrow is International Women’s Day, which is dedicated to celebrating the economic, political and social achievements of women across the globe. Last month, in Lebanon, women were not so celebrated. Lebanese Olympic skier, Jackie Chamoun, underwent scrutiny when footage of her posing topless for an Austrian calendar in 2011 leaked onto the internet, with Lebanon’s Minister of Youth and Sports going so far as to call for an investigation. In response, a massive campaign dubbed ‘stripforjackie’ turned the young woman into a social media sensation as hundreds of people began doing exactly what the campaign title implies: taking ‘selfies’ wearing almost nothing in their support of Jackie’s right to pose in whatever way she chooses.

Also in February, two women, Manal Assi and Christelle Abou Shakra, were allegedly brutally killed by their husbands in two separate incidents in Lebanon. Both had suffered years of abuse at the hands of their spouses, and activists renewed their long-standing demand that the domestic violence law still pending in Parliament be passed. So people stripped off their clothes and disseminated photographs of the lost women in a short-lived battle for change and a cry for attention from the Lebanese government. So what can we take away from all this?

It has become clearer than ever that the rights of women in Lebanon are a long way from being properly acknowledged and an even longer way from being fiercely protected. The root of the problem can be debated endlessly but I’d rather focus on actions that bring us women closer to being treated as equals in the Middle East. For me, entrepreneurship is a powerful starting point; it is an avenue through which women can have a real chance of achieving immense success, the kind of success that forces our dreams to be respected. I believe that it is the duty of female entrepreneurs to represent women on a wider scale by constantly innovating and fighting for our rights to be leaders in whatever field we choose. My tips for the month, tailor made for women entrepreneurs, and those wondering if they should become ones, are dedicated to women everywhere and especially to Manal and Christelle.

1. Embrace the fact that you’re female. Women and men don’t look at the world in the same way. Put simply, we’re different, and the entrepreneurship scene needs us both.  So embrace the fact that you are a woman when working on or creating your next venture and channel your different thought processes in order to humanize your business and create something with the female touch.

2. Inspire by example. Imagine the number of people you can impact by setting up and operating a startup. There is much preaching about how women should be treated but not enough action. People like Zeina Saab of The Nawaya Network, Sara Helou of eTobb and Tamara Qiblawi of Knooz Room are prime examples of young female entrepreneurs who broke free from the corporate world to create businesses that are not only amazing but also have a profound social impact.

3. It doesn’t have to be a choice. I’ve always wondered how I would balance work and family in my future, being the career obsessed person that I am. I now feel I have found the ultimate solution. Women give birth and want to be there for their kids, it’s innate. What better way to handle the work-life balance then by creating something that is your own, something that allows you to make your own rules and break free from the confines of the corporate world.

4. It’s okay if you don’t know stuff. You can learn it. I talk to a lot of women who fear entering the world of entrepreneurship because they feel they don’t posses the technical know-how. Who cares? Like everything new in life, you’ll figure it out as you go along. When I compare what I knew two years ago in terms of technology (nothing) and what I know now (a lot) it’s an amazing feeling; there is no way faster way to learn than by doing.

5. Be yourself. Make sure your business embodies your personality. If you fail, then you’re lucky: you’re an entrepreneur and you can just try again. I’ve never been prouder to be an entrepreneurial woman and I hope this piece inspires female readers to join the exciting ship I’m currently on.