Motivated by a desire to make some quick money, share their husbands' passion for stocks or simply fill in time, many housewives in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have been lured into a bubbling stock market over the past year.

"The problem is that we had a mad rush into stocks at the highest prices," says Salma al-Mansuri, 30, a female financial advisor.

Although the Dubai and Abu Dhabi markets have been rising since the start of the trading week on Saturday, they remain in the midst of a major correction that has hit all bourses in the oil-rich Gulf.

Massive decline

The Dubai Financial Market index is down a massive 35% since the start of the year, while Abu Dhabi's index has shed 15% over the same period.

The UAE market was the best performing in the Gulf in 2005 with a spectacular 135% gain followed by the region's biggest bourse in Saudi Arabia which jumped 103%, according to data compiled by the Dubai-based Gulf Research Centre (GRC).

Awash in liquidity from rising oil prices and fuelled by the insatiable hunger of Gulf investors for new initial public offerings, stock markets could only go one way - up.

Unrealistic stock

But the hype and unrealistic stock valuations combined with poor market regulation meant it was only a matter of time before the bubble burst, according to the GRC.

"I lost a lot of money on black Tuesday. I cannot quit now, I must make up my losses, God willing"

Umm Abdulrahman, referring to 14 March, when the Dubai market plunged 11.7%

"I do not know what is happening in this market," laments Nora Mahmud, 48, who has seen the value of her four million dirham ($1.1 million) portfolio slashed in half over the past few months.

Nearby, a woman clad in black from head-to-toe except for the spectacles that cover her eyes, blames unscrupulous speculators for the plunge and says she is determined to hang on to her investments.

"I lost a lot of money on black Tuesday," adds Umm Abdulrahman, 45, referring to 14 March, when the Dubai market plunged 11.7% in a single day.

"I cannot quit now, I must make up my losses, God willing."

Like gambling

But two other women, clutching designer handbags and dressed in silk abayas, the traditional female black robes, say they have lost faith in the market.

"It is like gambling and anyway many women just invested to amuse themselves instead of spending all their money on perfume and clothes," says one who identifies herself only as Shireen.

Mansuri says she still believes the markets offer an attractive long-term opportunity given the UAE's strong economic fundamentals and wants to educate women on how to make the right investment decisions using internet technologies.

She says playing the stock market is an ideal occupation for many Emirati women who must stay home for religious or family considerations.

Promoting women

Although the UAE prides itself on promoting women, who are able to benefit from higher education and enter the workforce, many still have to contend with a conservative male-dominated society that sees a woman's place at home.

Al-Mansuri says she knows of at least 20 women who divorced their husbands because they felt the men were paying more attention to stocks than to their marriage.

"I urge women now to get involved in their husbands' passion."

Then there is Aisha al-Mheri, 45, one of three wives of a wealthy Dubai merchant, who wears the niqab, the black Arab-Islamic dress that only shows a woman's eyes.

She can barely read or write but has been investing her savings and those of her 70-year-old mother Amna in the Dubai stock market over the past year.

"I follow my gut feeling when I buy and sell," Mheri says as she scribbles prices on a small notepad while watching the stock ticker tape on her television screen at home.

She has three brokerage accounts and gives orders over the telephone.

Despite recent losses, she says she has done handsomely in the market, refurbishing her villa in a posh Dubai neighbourhood with the profits.