By Akram Khatoon
Muslim women played very significant role in business from the very early days of Islam. They included Hazrat Khadija and other pious ladies followed by successive generations of Muslim women. In quite a number of Islamic countries like Egypt, Iran, Sudan, Malaysia, Indonesia, Bangladesh and Pakistan women are contributing to growth of industrial, agriculture and services sectors.
From global perspective, there is no dearth of expertise and know-how among Muslim women entrepreneurs, but there is need to synergise their expertise and energies for collective development of business women. For that, on the pattern of Organisation of Islamic Countries (OIC), a forum should be created for networking among Islamic countries to provide technical assistance to the women entrepreneurs for upgrading their management, marketing and technical skills in their respective lines of businesses.
In the recent past seminars/conferences, drawing women from OIC countries in particular were held to discuss ways and means to develop joint strategies, programmes and roles to enhance women’s say in decision-making both at family and national level and also improve their socio-economic status.
The Islamic Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ICCI) organised a conference of Muslim business women in Sharjah in March 2005 and thereafter a workshop was arranged by ICCI in Karachi in collaboration with Small and Medium Enterprise Development Authority (Smeda) in March 2006. This was followed by a conference in Malaysia in December 2006 in collaboration with UNIFEM and Asian Development Bank to identify ways and means to promote socio-economic participation of women as an essential component of sustained development in Islamic countries through an effective networking process.
In Pakistan apart from women running micro and small businesses, quite a number of women are the owners of large-scale projects. They have set up textile units in the areas of knitting, spinning, apparel and designer clothing, with ample potentials for further expansion of export market of their products/services. They excel in furniture-making and also specially of marble, commanding a wide market the world over. Designer leather goods comprising ladies hand-bags, shoes, and leather jackets and coats manufactured at women-owned factories are also in great demand abroad. Of late, a number of women have started film production houses and are producing films/dramas being acclaimed internationally.
IT revolution and advent of e-commerce is creating opportunities for women entrepreneurs to market their products and services abroad. E-commerce and electronic banking with sizable female expertise has potentials for opening new lines of businesses in IT-related fields. Quite a number of female IT experts have earned international recognition for producing quality soft wares. Hence, such women IT experts working independently or with a firm can attract outsourcing contract through networking with Islamic countries and also rest of the world.
The indifferent application of WTO rules and WTO’s lack of practical support to developing countries has greatly affected the women entrepreneurs. Particularly, in some African countries like Sudan, Uganda and Egypt women are owners of big oil production and textiles projects. Access of these countries to global market is not being facilitated by the WTO.
A large number of businesses (almost 40pc) are owned by women. But the so-called vulnerability of women-run businesses has prevented these African countries’ integration with global market. Hence, need for an institutionalized networking among women entrepreneurs of Islamic countries. They can enter into free trade agreements with each other for expanding their export trade volumes, initially enhancing their countries’ access to regional trade.
Networking among business women of Islamic countries must be preceded by development of networking within their own countries by obtaining membership of chambers of commerce and industry and various business and professions based NGOs.
Trade bodies of Islamic countries have facilitated networking of women entrepreneurs by setting up separate women wing of chamber of commerce and industries. In Pakistan the FPCCI and other major chambers of commerce have also lately created women wings in all the four provinces to provide a forum to business women to facilitate development of their businesses through counseling and providing linkage to both national and international markets.
Similarly, the Trade Development Authority of Pakistan (TDAP) has provided market outlets to business women by allocating space exclusively for their products at its display centres. The TDAP also arranges exhibitions within the country and sends women delegations for trade fairs organized abroad to enable women to secure export market for their products.
Through these platforms an institutional network can be created either as a sister concern of OIC itself or as an independent body under any suitable nomenclature.
To address the funding issue for small businesses in particular, where owners cannot manage to provide collaterals to financing bank, there is need to set up an international loan guarantee fund for business women of Islamic countries, based in a country, making largest contribution towards equity of the fund.
The fund could be utilised for extending credit lines to affiliated bodies of all the Islamic countries and also for guaranteeing individual or collective loans of small/micro business owners availed from financial institutions in their respective countries through mechanism of stand–by letter of credit established in favour of financing bank. For this fund would take ‘Sharia’ compliant service charges through financing bank at a rate within the affordability of business concern and also sustainability of fund’s operations