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Islam, Women and Feminism ( 10 Aug 2014, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Raksha Bandhan, the Sweet Hindu Sisters’ Festival

 New Age Islam News Bureau

11 Aug 2014

 Economic Empowerment of Pakistani Women – Access To Finance

 Doha: Expat Women Overcoming Professional Challenges

 Saudi Men Need Wives' Consent to Marry Moroccan Woman

 Where Hindu and Muslim Men Unite, Unfree Women

Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau




Raksha Bandhan, the Sweet Hindu Sisters’ Festival

By Shazia Hasan

August 11th, 2014

KARACHI: With the Thaali of coconut, sweetmeats, incense sticks and Kumkum all ready, there was just one important thing left to add — the Rakhi — and of course the brother.

Hindu girls and women from all over the city gathered on Sunday at the Shree Lakshmi Narayan Mandir at the Natives Jetty for the sweet festival of Raksha Bandhan to celebrate the bond of love between a brother and sister.

“My own brother is at home but I just made a new brother, who is Muslim, and tied a Rakhi around his wrist,” said Manisha Sham Lal.

Traditionally when a sister ties the thread around her brother’s wrist he reciprocates by also giving her a gift but Manisha said she was happy with just prayers from her new brother. “He will look out for me too, which is all I ask for in return,” she said.

But Natwar Dhanji, who is here on holiday from Dubai, came fully prepared for the festival. “I brought saris, make-up items and perfumes for my two sisters, Kaushaliya and Yashoda,” he said. “I know their choice,” he beamed saying that he was at the temple for Pooja only and the rakhi-tying ceremony had already taken place at home in the morning.

Amrit Devi, his mother, said: “After Pooja, we first tie the thread around our Bhagwan be it Ghanesh or Lord Krishna and after that comes our worldly brother’s turn.”

Dev Ji, another brother at the Pooja at the temple, pointed to the flowing waters under the Natives Jetty Bridge where several women had gathered to pray and set afloat various fruits and other offerings. “This day, of Raksha Bandhan, also comes after the passing of June and July, the two most rough monsoon months, and we offer these fruits and other Prasad to the sea in the hope of calming it down,” he said.

“People from all over come to the Shree Lakshmi Narayan Mandir, especially for its presence near these flowing waters. Some even try to imagine that they are performing Pooja by the Ganges River. And come to think of it, you never know, these waters may even connect with the Ganges at some point,” smiled the temple’s custodian, Arjun.

Muslim Rakhi sellers from Mirpukhas

The narrow path leading to the temple was lined with vendors selling varieties of pretty Rakhis. The sellers, who had travelled to Karachi from Mirpurkhas, introduced themselves as Muslims.

“We make not just Rakhis but Imam Zamin, too,” said Mohammad Ayub, who said his most expensive Rakhi was for Rs50 and the cheapest for Rs10.

Most Rakhis were made of red or orange threads with pretty beads woven in the middle but Mohammad Ashfaq also had some white ones. “Well, red and orange are most popular but all colours, except for black are used in making Rakhis,” he said.

Saeeda, another seller of the pretty thread bracelets, said she came here every year and was able to sell enough to take care of her travelling expenses besides making a meagre profit. “The ones that won’t sell this year, I’ll bring back next year,” she added smilingly.



Economic Empowerment of Pakistani Women – Access To Finance

By Ghalib Nishtar

August 11, 2014

Pakistan’s population is of over 180 million and women comprising half of it, and so we cannot envisage development that is sustainable without mainstreaming women into the process of economic growth.

The ability of women entrepreneurs to pursue economic opportunities, invest additional capital, hire more employees, and grow their businesses is of critical importance, however, the focus of this article is addressing the extent to which women are less able to access finance. If women cannot access financial resources, they are disadvantaged in their ability to pursue economic opportunities.

Financing is an important means by which to pursue growth opportunities, addressing women entrepreneur’s specific needs in accessing finance must be part of the development agenda.

Across regions, women entrepreneurs have lower access to finance than do male entrepreneurs. This is particularly problematic for women entrepreneurs who want to grow their businesses. It is not only that surveys show women entrepreneurs to be less likely to avail loans, but the terms of borrowing can also be less favourable for women. Many country studies show that women entrepreneurs are more likely to face higher interest rates, be required to collateralise a higher share of the loan, and have shorter-term loans.

Access to finance for women is limited by non-financial barriers as well, such as the legal and regulatory environment or the quality of available infrastructure; personal characteristics of the entrepreneurs (e.g. differentials in education or management training); constraints within financial institutions (little familiarity with and cultural barriers preventing interest in female clients); and a financial infrastructure that limit incentives to reach out to more female clients (i.e., lack of credit bureaus or collateral registries). Particularly relevant for access to finance are the formal gaps in legal capacity and property rights. Weak creditor right and lack of credit information can disproportionately disadvantage women, particularly if they have little collateral or control over assets.

Women lag far behind in access to land, credit and jobs, even though a growing body of evidence shows that enhancing women’s economic options boosts national economies. Macroeconomic policies and policymaking can make the connection to gender equality. The multiple barriers that prevent women from seizing economic opportunities must be eliminated. In many developing countries, a weak investment climate limits enterprise’s productivity and thus access to finance and more generally financial markets. Investment climate constraints smaller firms harder and women entrepreneurs are particularly affected since they are more likely to run smaller businesses.

When environment is conducive to business, female and male entrepreneurs perform very similarly and have similar borrowing rates. While not fully conclusive some research indicates that limitation in access to finance for women entrepreneurs may be primarily associated with their propensity to operate smaller and informal businesses.

Access to human capital and collateral are often cited as examples to explain why women are less likely to receive loans. If women businesses are perceived to be riskier, higher cost, and /or lower return, creditors will be reluctant to lend them irrespective of whether the perception is based on facts and experience or on conjecture.

Microfinance has partly compensated women’s access to formal finance. However, as women entrepreneurs grow they need financial products and services that go beyond microfinance.

Globally, the experience of financial markets reveals that the boundaries between microfinance and SME finance are gradually becoming blurred and the new terminology being increasingly referred to is MSME’s i.e. micro, small and medium enterprises.

This represents a large potential for financial services within the emerging economies of the world and by one estimate the total potential market for investment by financial institutions is at USD150 billion and is likely to double over the next five years. Secondly an estimated 60 per cent of the global banking revenue growth over the next decade lies in the emerging markets. Increasingly banks in developing economies are finding ways to overcome the inherent difficulties to serve the MSME segment. These efforts are being facilitated through innovation in technology, risk assessment and development of business models.

Women’s access to finance beyond microfinance is increasingly being supported by the International community and International financial institutions but these initiatives are small and often lack targets or clear monitoring and evaluation frameworks.

Financial Institutions can pro actively and profitably engage with women entrepreneurs as clients and some initiatives have shown the way forward through innovative approaches. The G-20 leader’s agreement on the financial inclusion agenda rightly presents a three point action plan based on evidence and experience from the developing and the developed world.

This plan highlights endorsement of a set of recommendations for policymakers in the developing world to establish a supportive enabling environment that will facilitate women entrepreneurs’ access to financial services in their respective countries, spearheading efforts to identify, evaluate and support the replication of successful models for expanding financial services to women entrepreneurs and leading efforts to gather gender disaggregated data on SME finance in a coordinated fashion. The demographics of Pakistan represent a pre dominantly rural landscape with nearly 70 percent of the population involved in on or off farm economic activities. In such challenging circumstance, reduction of gender inequalities requires that women have access to increased decision-making power over both house hold finance as well as over national economies and that they are simultaneously capacitated enough to meet the added challenge of surviving in an increasingly competitive environment being ushered in through the process of globalisation.

Therefore, Public Policy must accord high priority to the development of the MSME sector with particular focus on women given the potential for generating employment, increasing incomes and reducing poverty.



Doha: Expat Women Overcoming Professional Challenges

August 8, 2014

Doha: Salwa is struggling to settle in to Doha. She arrived here late last year when her husband was offered a job in the public sector.

While she does not have any monetary complaints, life is not the same anymore. Back home in Yemen she was a school teacher with years of experience but with no one to take care of her five children, she has no choice but to accept being a stay-at-home mum here.

“My parents and in-laws all lived close to our house so I could go to work in the morning without worrying about my children,” she tells Gulf News.

Salwa’s story is not dissimilar to those of several expatriate women who come to Qatar as trailing spouses once their husbands are lured into this fast-growing Gulf country. The lucrative contracts, however, come with their own share of domestic issues.

 A lack of options for reliable childcare services, coupled with an inflexible work environment almost always means that it is the mother making the sacrifice.

While there are some organisations that have moved on with the times and now offer options such as working from home or flexibility in work hours, most bosses would raise an eyebrow if their employee stepped out for an extra hour.

Domestic headaches, however, are not the sole reason why women find it difficult to work here. For instance, employers prefer some nationalities over the other when it comes to hiring women as they choose to steer clear of visa hassles.

Additionally, nearly all employers prefer hiring women who are in the country on a pre-issued family visa, which works out better for them financially and logistically.Some married women prefer to switch jobs without having to shift to their spouse’s visa, as it would leave them at a disadvantage in terms of benefits and perks.

Nailah, who came to Qatar from Egypt as a single woman before marrying here, has been working for a leading public sector company. She recently turned down a job opportunity despite it offering better hours and flexibility. “They wanted me to switch to my husband’s visa but that would have taken away a big chunk of my benefits that I would have if they offered me a work visa,” she says.In several other cases, women have no option but to take up jobs that do not match their qualifications as they want to grab any opportunity that comes their way. Teaching, office administration and customer services are some of the specialities that are easy to settle into but offer lower wages than jobs in managerial roles or with greater responsibility.While women who are qualified and experienced lawyers, business managers, engineers or journalists do find it difficult to break into the Doha job market, there is some indication that Qatar might match the global trend of hiring women as CEOs or MDs.“I have been here for over four years and during this time I have noticed that more and more women are being trusted with managerial roles, where they have a large staff of men working under them,” says a journalist who works with Al Jazeera who preferred not to be named.

Being a news presenter, moving to Qatar from the West presented some challenges for her in terms of dressing and a few other issues, but these were issues she was had to overlook.

Qatar is still a long way from being a country with a growing number of stay-at-home fathers and offering women options that match their qualifications, but the country’s pace of picking up global trends has improved in the last few years and it may go some way in ensuring that women here can have a healthy balance between their professional and family lives.



Saudi men need wives' consent to marry Moroccan woman

August 9, 2014

Dubai: Saudi men need to have their Saudi wives’ consent in case they are planning to take a second wife from Morocco.

The new regulations, which came along with other rules, were attributed to a Saudi security official. Shortly after newspapers carried the news last week, they became a talking point on social media. Some, mainly men, were against it. But most women were for the “unusual” rule.

“It is because of its bizarreness,” commented Tamador Alyami, a Saudi writer and blogger. “I don’t get the scope of the new rules and the reasons behind them,” she told Gulf News.

Last week, a newspaper quoted Makkah Police Director Major General Assaf Al Qurashi as saying that Saudi men planning to marry foreign women should submit marriage applications through official channels.

He listed several conditions, including a minimum age of 25 years for applicants, attaching identification documents signed by the local district mayor as well as other identity papers, including a copy of the man’s family card. “If the applicant is already married, he should attach a report from a hospital proving that his wife is either disabled, suffering from a chronic disease or is sterile,”A l Qurashi was quoted as saying by Saudi papers.

Al Qurashi said divorced men would not be allowed to apply within six months of their divorce, adding that men are not allowed to marry expatriate women from Pakistan, Bangladesh, Chad and Myanmar.

Also, married men planning to take a second wife from Morocco need to provide written approval from their first wives, the official said.

Already, authorities request men and women who want to marry foreigners to obtain the approval of the government. On an average, the consent of the interior ministry takes a few months before issuance.

Some women wrote on Twitter that they were satisfied with the new restrictions. But others expressed their discontent with the fact that a husband of a cancer patient is allowed to take a second wife and described it as “unfaithfulness”.

“I am willing to agree [to husband taking a second wife] on the condition that he gives me a luxury villa, a one-million cheque and a monthly salary of 20,000 Saudi riyals,” said one Saudi woman in a tweet.

“What a pity! You ask your wife whether to take a second wife or not? Where is the manhood? Marry a second wife and don’t worry,” said a Saudi man in a tweet.

“It is fine for men to take a second wife from Egypt or Syria, and no need for the approval of the first wife, unlike the Moroccan wife. What is wisdom behind it?” asked a second man in a tweet.

“I believe no government has the right to interfere in the choice of any man or woman for their spouse, especially the Saudi government because it applies the Islamic law,” said Tamador Alyami. “Islamic law doesn’t limit the nationality of a wife or a husband. On the contrary, the Quran encourages marriage among people from different places,” she noted.

As for the marriage ban from four countries, Tamador said the reasons are vague. However, she noted that according to unofficial figures, the number of people from the four countries living in Saudi Arabia is estimated at half a million, and it is unclear whether this number is of women only or both men and women.

Most probably, the condition of getting a second wife from Morocco with the approval of the first Saudi wife was initiated by the Moroccan authorities, she noted.

In Morocco, many activists noted, the approval of the first wife is necessary to complete the marriage contract of the man’s second marriage.



Where Hindu and Muslim men unite, unfree women

August 11th, 2014

It came as a surprise, not because of what was being said, but who was saying it.

“It is so common. They call themselves Sonu Bhai, Pappu Bhai, and they wear red hand bands to appear like Hindus. And then they trap our girls,” said a prominent journalist in west UP. He then opened two files of a Hindi newspaper of the past few months. Pages 2 and 3, dedicated to local news, were littered with stories about Muslim boys and Hindu girls getting together, or strong statements by parents opposing such unions. Don’t Hindu boys get together with Muslim girls or did the media not report it? “No, our boys are too sanskari (cultured),” he replied.

A few hours ago, the head of Bajrang Dal in west UP, Balraj Doongar, had put forward the Sangh’s favourite theory of ‘love jihad’— of Muslim men getting Hindu women. The fact that a mainstream journalist was repeating the theory showed how this narrative was spreading.

But the other side appeared as bitter and extreme, for in Budhana, we met Haji Dilshad, a tyre shop owner, who was sitting with a group of men. When asked why women were at the centre of so many disputes, Dilshad said, “This boy and girl business has always happened. But it does not mean we can accept it. Hindus should stay with Hindus and Muslims with Muslims.”

But was it true that it was usually Muslim boys and Hindu girls and not vice versa who got together? Dilshad responded angrily, “Their women came and were lying on this very cot right after the evening Namaaz sometime back. Who is trapping whom?” His son, an 18-year-old Mohammed Umeed, added, “Go to rural areas. And you will find it is the Hindu boys who take our women.”

Read: Patriarchy, religious chauvinism, crudeness come together in Meerut

When asked, half jokingly, if he had a girlfriend, Umeed turned serious and responded with a categorical no. “Women should be kept inside. My sisters are all at home, and whenever we have to get something from the bazaar, I go out, not them.” His father corroborated, “I have not taught them beyond Class 5. Their job is to cook food. The entire problem is that the purdah system has ended.” He then paused and said, “Our girls have fallen too.”

Another young boy, Umeed’s friend, came in at this point, “Why do they wear such clothes? I don’t go around in shorts.” But wasn’t the onus on men to remain restrained and respect their choice?

While religion and politics have been reported as primary drivers of conflict in the battles in west UP, gender remains as important a fault line. Reports of the many cases of molestation and rape during the riots of last year testify to how sexual assault was seen as a way of exercising political power. The inability of Hindu and Muslim men to cope with the idea of free will is another facet of the same story.

The region is demographically mixed; there are increasing opportunities for men and women and boys and girls of both communities to interact. They meet in schools and colleges, they can keep in touch through technology, the line between rural and urban is collapsing, and they are all exposed to a culture — through mass media — where falling in love and experimenting with sexuality is not necessarily a crime.

Read: Why there would be communal incidents, but no large-scale bloodshed in UP

Ritu (name changed), a college student in Moradabad, makes an important distinction. “Harassment and rape by anyone irrespective of his religion must be punished, but our parents and communities need to understand that two adults must be allowed to make their decisions regarding love and marriage.” Back in Muzaffarnagar, at the Shahpur police post, chief AP Gautam, said, “Wherever it clicks for someone, it happens. It is a matter of chance. The two people see religion later, but what to do if their families and communities make it a source of conflict.”

What is happening in west UP is a microcosm of the cultural transformation taking place across India. But mixed with deep religious polarisation, chauvinistic ideologies, and a weak administration, the gender wars have taken an altogether more violent form.