During the oil boom of the 1970s, Gulf women largely withdrew from economic activity, apparently happy to rest on their growing pools of wealth. This time, they are being encouraged to participate and put their substantial savings to work. Increasingly, they are also taking the opportunity to assert themselves. It is a welcome contrast.
The change in attitude comes from the top. Governments that are diversifying their economies recognise that local human capital is scarce, and that excluding half of the population from employment and business opportunities is a waste.
At a time of increasing opportunities overall, the emergence of women as a financial force is less of a threat to the status quo. But taking charge of their own wealth and looking for ways to increase it is still socially and politically sensitive in some countries, particularly the more conservative parts of the Gulf. This poses a challenge to financial institutions trying to tap into this market.
The biggest and richest part of the market is in Saudi Arabia. If financial institutions are to make a success of selling products and services to women here, they must be aware of the risk of offending the religious authorities.
Employing female independent financial advisers to sell to other women suits the social norms. However, encouraging women to work and earn their own wage further challenges the entrenched conservatism.
But the banks, mindful of the huge pool of potential new customers, are unlikely to be put off by such issues for long. Several new banks are being set up just to target women and, if successful, they can expect others to follow.