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THE ROLE OF ISLAMIC MICROFINANCE IN EMPOWERING WOMEN ENTREPRENEURS: An exploratory study in the context of Pakistan 1.

0 Introduction

Women constitutes an integral part of any society but their importance is undermined due to gender discriminatory policies set by the government and norms by societies in both developing and developed world. The poverty burden is beard by them. Women perform 66% of the global work, contribute to the production of 50 % of global food, and in return receive only 10% of world income and 1% share of property. 38% of the world registered business is owned by women and its rate of growth is increasing in Asia, Europe, Africa and Latin America (GEM2009). Despite the fact that women constitutes major share of the population, they experience status disparity in developing and developed nations (Rehman and Naoroze, 2007).Women are the untapped sources of economic growth. International organizations like United nation is using women empowerment as a strategy to reduce poverty and population growth rate (Kabeer,2001) An economically independent woman invests more in the family and community, therefore , women economic empowerment is a prerequisite for sustainable economic development and pro poor growth. Hisrich (1984) argues that the financial community rates women as a second class citizen. Financial markets have been showing gender discrimination and possess a certain bias towards women entrepreneurs and had been a major obstacle in their efforts to start up a new business or strengthening their position (Thabethe, 2006). Furthermore as per Khan & Noreen (2012) 70 % of world poor are women who are rarely financially independent due to hurdles in accessing credit and financial services. This makes them most vulnerable members of the society. In order to overcome this financial, social, and economic instability, microfinance can be considered as an integral source of contribution through targeting women. Littlefield, Murduch, and Hashemi (2004) argue that microfinance can be used as a developmental tool to create emancipation and women empowerment. In concordance Holvoet (2005) suggests that the only platform that can encourage women social, economic and political empowerment in the wake of skeptical financial instruments is microfinance. The role of microfinance is considered significant by many researches (e.g. Mayoux 2001 or Gurin 2006 for the African context; Mahmud 2003, Holvoet 2005 or Moodie 2008 in Asia; Velasco and Marconi 2004 in Latin America).

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Researchers from different parts of the world agreed that women empowerment is created by microcredit if the program is structured according to social and economic context of women.(Hartungi, 2007; Holvoet, 2005; Gurin, 2006). Saqib, ( 2006:2) argued that Muslims deterred participation in conventional microfinance programs due to Riba (interest) that is forbidden in Islam. This becomes the basis for the development of Islamic microfinance products. Islamic microfinance is in nascent stage of its evolution, contributes 1% of total Islamic banking outreach globally. The existing studies on Islamic microfinance are mainly done in Malaysia, Bangladesh, Indonesia and Egypt. Many writers such as El-Gamal (2006), Ahmed (2001), and others, believe in the great potential of Islamic banking to be involved in microfinance programs to cater for the needs of the poor who usually fall outside the formal banking sector. Moreover different researchers are of the opinion that diverse nature of Islamic instruments in collaboration with mechanisms like Zakat, charity and waqaf can promote entrepreneurship (Akhtar, 1996, 1998; S. AlHarran, 1995, 1996, 1999; S. A. S. Al-Harran, 1990 Al-ZamZami & Grace, 2000; Dhumale & Sapcanin, 1998; Hassan & Alamgir, 2002). A study of Lebanese Islamic microfinance products (Chammas ,2006) uncover the problems with them in terms of application of financial instruments. A study in Bangladesh (Hossain and Siwar,2008) explores the prospects and problems of Islamic micro finance uncover the untapped opportunity. Isler (2010) attributes the inefficiencies in Islamic microfinance operations to the nature of Islamic Products. The above mentioned studies mainly explore or describe the nature of Islamic micro finance products and their respective mechanisms. Little research is done in gauging their impact on women empowerment. There are very limited offerings of Islamic microfinance products in Pakistan. Therefore, majority of Muslims are forced to use interest based products or exploitive informal money lender. Only two institutions Akhuwat foundation and Wasil Foundation are offering limited Islamic microfinance products to both men and women. No exclusive offerings are designed for women. The importance of women empowerment through micro credit and possible bridging of gap that exists between religious beliefs and practice demands a study to explore the role that Islamic microfinance can play in the empowerment of women. The aim of this research is to explore the role of Islamic Microfinance products in the empowerment of women entrepreneurs in the light of social and financial structures in Pakistan. The study focuses on the women entrepreneurs from Lahore District that are using Islamic Microfinance products to reveal their rich experiences and challenges in accessing and using the Islamic Microfinance products. In addition, 2|Page

the current research will explore the perspectives of Islamic and conventional microfinance providers operating in Pakistan on the challenges faced by them in offering the Islamic microfinance products and the possible reasons behind the low outreach of these products.

1.1

Background of Research

Women possess a disadvantaged position in developed and developing countries. This can be tracked from studying history starting from post-world war II period. Women were considered unproductive and isolated as housewives till 1970. Post 1970 era is characterized by industrial development where women remained an unequal recipient. This resulted in receipt of only 10% of world income by women even after performing 67% of world working hours as reported by GEM (2010). This reflects that women economic health globally. Cheston and Kuhn (2002) argue that women hold low paid jobs mostly in informal sector in most economies of the world. This is further supported by the work of Islam (2006) that highlights the contribution of women in the economic development. Consequently, World bank (2002) acknowledge that the ease of access of financial resources to women creates women empowerment and subsequently contributes to the development of economy. Mayoux (1998) noted that increasing women's access to micro-credit has the tendency to initiate a series of 'virtuous spirals' of economic empowerment, increased well-being for women and their families and on the wider scale, on social and political empowerment. Recently increased attention is given to the gender dimension of microfinance due the fact that researchers consider women role as instrumental in societal change and development. Their empowerment can bring great social and economic benefits to society. In a study of Bangladeshi women by Kossmann (2008) women strategic needs like gender equality and their everyday practical needs are analyzed as a result of availability of microfinance. Kabeer (1998) reveal that Bangladeshi women contribution to household wellbeing due to access to micro credit reduced domestic abuse. In a similar study by Cheston and Kuhn (2002) confirms that access to microfinance by women reduced domestic violence in Nepal thus creating social and economic empowerment. Hgh and Petersen (2009) studied the behavior and actions of women on the success of microfinance. Similarly , Joloshev ( 2010) argues that microfinance provides an empowering sustainable path for women entrepreneurs. Mahmood (2013) investigates the role of microfinance in womens economic empowerment, well-being of the family and lack of access to finance from commercial banks due to non-availability of track record and collateral. Three paradigms on microfinance and gender are discussed by Mayoux (1998) are: 3|Page

i.

Financial self-sustainability paradigm focuses on providing the right interest rate to poor and is followed by donor agencies. Gender lobbies argue that women repayment rate and women contribution to economic development demand support of donors to women for financial sustainability.

ii.

Poverty Alleviation Paradigm: Its focus is client group in a contextual based program. Rural areas are targeted. The women are responsible for household wellbeing therefore access to easy finance for women will increase the wellbeing of household in particular while benefiting the society in general.

iii.

Feminist Empowerment Paradigm: The underline assumption is creating gender equality with help of women targeted microfinance programs.

The microfinance programs can follow any one or a mix of the three paradigms. In the current research the Financial self-sustainability paradigm and Feminist Empowerment paradigm will be explored. Jolosheva (2010) argued that microfinance rates are higher for women and creates distress in women in Kyrgyzstan. The inherent problem with the conventional microfinance products are high interest rates. Also Interest or Riba is forbidden in Islam. Therefore the conventional microfinance products create a conflict in ones religious belief system and the practical needs. The emergence of Islamic banking and subsequently development of Islamic microfinance products are the solutions that can resolve this conflict but it is not that easy. Riba is prohibited in Islam and this poses a major challenge to Islamic banks to extend credit in an efficient and profitable manner that is Shariah compliant. A study by Isler (2010) revealed an efficiency gap in conventional and Islamic microfinance products. He proposed that the gap can be bridged by improving the nature of products offered by Islamic banks. He proposed a study to understand the nature of products that can improve the profitability of banks. Moreover different researchers are of the opinion that diverse nature of Islamic instruments in collaboration with mechanisms like Zakat, charity and waqaf can promote entrepreneurship (Akhtar, 1996, 1998; S. Al-Harran, 1995, 1996, 1999; S. A. S. Al-Harran, 1990 Al-ZamZami & Grace, 2000; Dhumale & Sapcanin, 1998; Hassan & Alamgir, 2002) A similar study in Pakistan (Akhter,2009) propose the use of Zakat, Waqaf and Takaful to increase Islamic microfinance products contribution to entrepreneurship. Dusuki(2007) proposes participatory bases, sale based. Lease based and voluntary charitable contract Islmaic finance models need to be tested in different contexts. A study of Malaysian Islamic microfinance market revealed that weak credit evaluation mechanisms of Islamic microfinance products undermine the effectiveness of microcredit. Similarly, Isler (2010) attributes the inefficiencies in Islamic microfinance operations to the nature of Islamic Products. A study of Lebanese Islamic microfinance 4|Page

products (Chammas ,2006) uncover the problems with them in terms of application of financial instruments. A study in Bangladesh (Hossain and Siwar,2008) explores the prospects and problems of Islamic micro finance uncover the untapped opportunity. Ahmed (2009) argues that customer satisfaction and service quality has weak influence on the performance of Islamic banks in Pakistan 1.2 Aims of the Research

Research in the area of Islamic micro finance and its role in empowerment of women entrepreneurs is considered to be important in order to deal with the issues of easy access and interest free Islamic micro finance products for the welfare of Women in particular and society as a whole . Specifically the

studies on independent microfinance programs and entrepreneurship are less researched areas (Islam, 2009). The emerging field of Islamic banking and Islamic micro finance is characterized with lack
of comprehensive knowledge on the nature of Islamic micro finance products and their efficiency in serving the women. The primary aim of this study is to explore the role of Islamic microfinance products in the empowerment of women Entrepreneurs in Pakistan. This study will bring out the perspective of women entrepreneurs on challenges faced by them in accessing the Islamic microfinance products due to the nature of the products. The study will further examine the perceptions of managers of Islamic microfinance institutions about the inherent issues and prospects in offering Islamic micro finance products to women entrepreneurs. 1.3 Research Objectives:

The main objective of the study is to explore the role of Islamic microfinance in the empowerment of women entrepreneurs. 1.3.1 Sub objectives:

Identifying and reviewing the role of Islamic microfinance in economic empowerment of women entrepreneurs. Assessing the challenges of women entrepreneurs in accessing the Islamic microfinance due to the nature of the products. To identify the concerns of Islamic financial institutions in offering Islamic micro finance products. To design and develop Islamic micro finance products customized to the needs of the women entrepreneurs To develop policy recommendation for Islamic micro finance institutions and government

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1.4

Research Questions What role does microfinance play in the economic empowerment of women Entrepreneurs in Pakistan? What are the challenges faced by women entrepreneurs' in accessing the Islamic microfinance? What are the reasons behind the limited offering of Islamic microfinance products by Islamic financial institutions in Pakistan? What are the reasons behind the limited offering of Islamic micro finance products by Micro financial institutions? Which Islamic micro finance products can be launched in the market? What changes are required in the Islamic micro finance products to cater to the needs of women entrepreneurs'?

1.5

Rationale: The Justification of the Research

Women empowerment and microfinance is an emerging phenomenon. Previous studies done in Africa, Europe, India, Bangladesh, Malaysia and Indonesia reveal the importance of role of microcredit in the empowerment of women. Hgh and Petersen (2009) studied the behavior and actions of women on the success of microfinance. Similarly , Joloshev (2010) argues that microfinance provides an empowering

sustainable path for women entrepreneurs. Mahmood (2013) investigates the role of microfinance in
womens economic empowerment, well-being of the family and lack of access to finance from commercial banks due to non-availability of track record and collateral. Ablorh (2011) examined the contribution of microfinance to the socio-economic empowerment of women in Ghana by using Opportunity International savings and Loans (OISL) microfinance program. Moreover a study revealed use of group lending methodology (Khan and Rehman, 2007) in microcredit disbursement for poor people of Bangladesh affects the living standard of people. An in-depth gender study (Kulkarni 2010) of impact of microfinance institutions on women revealed the differences in impact of microcredit on men and women is different. There is little literature available on the effective ness of different microcredit products in creating empowerment of women entrepreneurs in developing countries in general and Pakistan in specific. The above literature suggest that the nature of microcredit products and their respective impact on women empowerment is an under researched area.

Islamic microfinance is in nascent stage of its evolution, contributes 1% of total Islamic banking outreach Rs.900 billion in Pakistan. The existing studies on Islamic microfinance are mainly done in Malaysia and 6|Page

Indonesia and Egypt. Many writers such as El-Gamal (2006), Al-Harran (1990, 1996, 1999),Akhtar (1996, 1998), Dhumale and Sapcanin (1998), Ahmed (2001), and others, believe in the great potential of Islamic banking to be involved in microfinance programs to cater for the needs of the poor who usually fall outside the formal banking sector. Moreover different researchers are of the opinion that diverse nature of Islamic instruments in collaboration with mechanisims like Zakat, charity and waqaf can promote entrepreneurship (Akhtar, 1996, 1998; S. Al-Harran, 1995, 1996, 1999; S. A. S. Al-Harran, 1990 AlZamZami & Grace, 2000; Dhumale & Sapcanin, 1998; Hassan & Alamgir, 2002) A similar study in Pakistan (Akhter,2009) propose the use of Zakat, Waqaf and Takaful to increase Islamic microfiance products contribution to entrepreneurship. Dusuki(2007) proposes participatory bases, sale based. Lease based and voluntary charitable contract Islamic finance models need to be tested in different contexts. Isler (2010) attributes the inefficiencies in Islamic microfinance operations to the nature of Islamic Products in Malayisa. A study of Lebanese Islamic microfinance products (Chammas ,2006) uncover the problems with them in terms of application of financial instruments. A study in Bangladesh (Hossain and Siwar,2008) explores the prospects and problems of Islamic micro finance uncover the untapped opportunity. The above brief overview of the literature on women empowerment, micro credit and Islamic microfinance products reflect that there are very limited studies done to explore the role of Islamic microfinance products in terms of their respective nature and attributes in the empowerment of women entrepreneurs. Hence this study will fill this gap in the literature. Not only this area is under researched the majority of studies are done in Africa, and developing countries perspective. There is a need to study the growing phenomenon of Islamic microfinance and women empowerment in Pakistani Context. This study will provide insight on the nature of Islamic micro finance products and their implications for women entrepreneurs in Pakistan and help the policy makers in bringing women and women's perspectives into the governance, management, and implementation of Islamic micro-finance programs. Women empowerment and microfinance is an emerging phenomenon. Madiha (2007) studied ethnographic and discourse analytical methods to investigate the socio-cultural settings of microfinance and ROSCAs (Rotating Savings and Credit Associations) in Pakistan. The study focus was community not women. Duvendack (2010) studied microfinance impact evaluation of SEWA Bank conducted by the United States Agency for International Development in India and Bangladesh using panel data. The application of advanced econometric techniques to observational data was unable to provide convincing evidence of impact. Survey methods are used by researcher (Ablorh,2011) to examine contribution of microfinance in the socio economic empowerment of women in Ghana. Moreover, The studies by 7|Page

researcher (Mustafa and Ismailov, 2008) in Pakistan use the information from NGO, Students and researchers of the field using survey method. A pragmatic paradigm approach using qualitative information from the women entrepreneurs using Islamic micro finance products through in-depth interviews and quantitative data from the managers of financial institutions both from Islamic and conventional banks will result in a significant methodological contribution.

1.6

Significance of Study

The current research will make significant theoretical and practical contributions in the following ways: 1.6.1 Theoretical contribution: Pioneer study in exploring the role of Islamic microfinance in economic empowerment of women entrepreneurs. There are 11 microfinance institutions and only two institution are offering Islamic micro finance products. This study will shed light on the effectiveness of their products and identify the challenges faced by women entrepreneurs in gaining access to Islamic microfinance due to the nature of the products. The outcomes of the study will help in proposing new models 1.6.2 Contribution in policy development: State bank of Pakistan has made five year strategic plan for promoting Islamic banking and Islamic microfinance. This study will help in assessing the Islamic Micro finance products outreach and effectiveness in poverty reduction which is a major millennium goal. The findings of the study will bring women and women's perspectives into the governance, management, and implementation of Islamic micro-finance programs. 1.6.3 Practical contribution: Based on the findings, this study will propose Islamic micro finance products catering to the needs of Women Entrepreneurs. The current Islamic micro finance products will be redesigned to make them more customers friendly and a solution to the problems with the product implementation will be provided.

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