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Int’l Women’s Day 2019: Studies to inform the Islamic economy to think equal, build smart, innovate for change

Photo: Students study in the laboratory at the Faculty of Science at the University of Misrata, Libya, December 19, 2011. REUTERS/Esam Al-Fetori 

Today is International Women’s Day and this year, the United Nations is stressing the theme: Think equal, build smart, innovate for change.

In order to think equal and build smart to innovate for positive change, Salaam Gateway believes in educating ourselves with facts and findings based on scholarship and research. We turn to recent academic work, published since the start of 2018, that study women in Muslim and/or Islamic contexts. We do so to highlight the body of empirical evidence that show the need to, among others: include more women on boards and leadership positions, support more financial inclusion initiatives to empower women, design gender-specific financial products such as within takaful, and understand social and lifestyle issues to better serve women.

We have picked 44 studies to mark each year that the International Women’s Day has been celebrated since its first in 1975. Most of these studies are available online for free. We stress that these 44 are not exhaustive, they are only the tip of the iceberg of academic and empirical studies that we have selected for their high relevance to the Islamic economy. We welcome your suggestions and selections at info.salaamgateway@thomsonreuters.com and if relevant for the Islamic economy and our readers, we will add them to the list.


  1. How is the performance of Islamic banks affected when female directors sit on the board?

This paper investigates whether and how differently performance of Islamic banks is affected when female directors sit on the board. It studies a sample of 1,528 observations on 71 Islamic banks and 120 conventional banks operating in 11 Muslim countries over 2010-2017 period. It finds that Islamic banks with more female directors have a lower credit risk and inefficiency relative to conventional banks. However, it finds no significant relationship for other performance indicators such as net interest margin and profitability. The results have implications for promotion of gender equality and inclusive corporate culture in countries with dual banking systems.

  1. Bridging and bonding: having a Muslim diversity on corporate boards and firm performance

The findings suggest that gender diversity (Muslim and Non-Muslim women) is positively significant with firm performance with regards to management, shareholders and market perspectives. It means that both Muslim and non-Muslim women are contributing to firm performance. Ethnic diversity (minority) and Muslim diversity (majority) have no impact on firm performance. On the other hand, interaction variables are positively significant with firm performance. It means that majority and minorities are essential for corporate boards to produce a greater performance.

  1. The effect of gender diversity on the financial performance of Jordanian banks

This study explores whether the percentage of women on boards of directors and top and medium-level executive management positions in Jordanian banks had an effect on these banks’ financial performance. The findings show that, contrary to the findings of many studies from developed countries, there is no statistically significant relation between the percentages of women on boards and top and medium-level executive managements of Jordanian banks and these banks’ financial performance. However, due to the apparent advantages of the inclusion of women in such positions, as seen by the findings of many international studies, this study recommends that most Jordanian banks increase their currently small percentages of women on boards and top executive management positions in order to potentially achieve such advantages.

  1. Muslim CEO, women on boards and corporate responsibility reporting: some evidence from Malaysia

This study finds that Muslim CEOs are significantly associated with greater disclosure of CSR information. It also finds only a moderate relationship between board gender diversity and CSR disclosure. This is probably due to insufficient number of women on boards.

  1. Factors affecting women leadership to reach top management and its impact on the economy: the case of Bahrain

This is a descriptive study based on mixed methods aiming to understand the role of women in the banking sector in Bahrain. 

  1. Inequality, concentration of wealth and the ownership structure of Islamic banks: does Qur’an 59:7 matter? (April 2018, work in progress, focuses on Bahrain)

Are Islamic banks helping to improve inequality and concentration of wealth and thus offer a better framework to deal with instability and crisis? Is the ownership structure of Islamic banks conducive to meeting the Islamic imperative regarding inequality and concentration of wealth? The research in this paper looks at the pertinent issues in light of the experience of Bahrain.

  1. Factors hindering women entrepreneurs’ access to institutional finance – an empirical study

This study reveals the issues that are unfavorable to both women entrepreneurs as well as financial institutions and lessen fund flow from financial institutions to women entrepreneurs. The findings of this study will facilitate Bangladesh and other developing countries (having same nature) to set appropriate policies to enhance fund flow to women entrepreneurs with a view to encouraging women entrepreneurship and ensuring economic progress and women empowerment.

  1. The role of Islamic social finance in empowering youth and women in Sokoto state of Nigeria

This paper examines two projects by the Zakat and Endowment Commission in Sokoto, Nigeria, with regards Youth and Women Empowerment programs. The study finds that youth have been able to harness their potentials by expanding their businesses and upgrading the quality of their products and services. Moreover, the women have improved their welfare and that of their children to an unprecedented level. They were able to maintain their chosen business as livelihood of income. However, they reveal that, marketing of their finished products is the major challenge they face.

  1. Gender diversity in board of directors and firm performance: a study of Indonesia Shariah banks

This study examines the influence of the proportion of women as directors, tenure of women as directors, education level of women as directors, and the education background of women as directors on the performance of Islamic banking in Indonesia. The results show that the proportion of women as directors has a negative effect on the performance of Islamic banking in Indonesia. Other variables such as tenure of women, women's education background and firm size have a positive effect on Islamic banking performance. Only the women’s education level as a director does not affect the performance of Islamic banks in Indonesia.

  1. Empowering women through Islamic microfinance: experience of BMT Beringharjo in Indonesia

This study analyzes the benefits of empowering women through Islamic microfinance programs by focusing on the case of Baitulmal wat Tamwil (BMT) in Beringharjo, Indonesia. The results show that there were improvements in various socio-economic aspects of the participants such as higher income and expenditure, and more involvements in community activities, decision making and children’s education.

  1. Financial inclusion: Nigeria’s microfinance model effect assessment on women empowerment

This study ascertains the significant effectiveness of Nigeria’s microfinance model of financial inclusion on women empowerment. It identifies a positive and significant relationship between women empowerment and microfinance banks’ products: rent savings, child education, new born and daily savings account. It says that the microfinance model is a policy in the right direction that will result in more financial inclusion of the women population especially, in rural communities. The study recommends the creation of more women tailored products by microfinance banks.

  1. An empirical evidence on the effect of women board representation on firm performance of companies listed on the Iraq Stock Exchange

This article examines the effect of women representation on firm performance of Iraqi listed firms using panel regression analysis. The empirical results of this paper provide evidence of a positive and significant relationship between female directors and firm performance as measured by Return on Assets while no relationship with Tobin’s q. The important policy implication of this finding is that the Iraqi Stock Exchange and Iraqi Security Commission should incorporate gender diversity in corporate governance practices and encourage women directorship in Iraq.

  1. Women’s enactment of leadership in a heavily gender-marked Islamic context: an exploration within the United Arab Emirates

This paper examines female leaders within an Islamic context devoid of such espoused equality in which gender differences are enshrined in culture and law. The study reveals no difference in how women perform leadership, except in terms of brokering skills in which women are perceived as superior to their male counterparts. Focus group discussion participants ascribed this difference to the Islamic benevolent sexism dynamic of according women greater respect, which facilitates their access to higher management.

  1. Securitizing women: Gender, precaution, and risk in Indian finance

India is home to the second biggest Muslim population in the world. In 2013, the government of India announced the creation of the Bharatiya Mahila Bank (BMB), or the Indian Women’s Bank, offering financial services largely to women. While the BMB was premised on an idea of precautious empowerment through financial inclusion, India offers a challenge to the almost global dominance of men in the upper echelons of finance. With around 40 percent of financial assets controlled by women-headed banks, Indian women have challenged the naturalization of men in finance. This article argues that both narratives of women in finance in India hinge on the notion of precaution. The author argues that banking for women and women bankers stabilize the economic order under financialization rather than challenging the conservatism of patriarchal capitalism and the gendered production of public space.

  1. Boardroom diversity and innovation in the UAE banks

Corporate finance literature suggests that diverse boards are a part of good corporate governance practice. However, it is not clear how diverse board characteristics might affect innovation and innovation search strategies. Utilizing the data from 25 banks listed in the UAE stock exchanges, this study evaluates the impact of boardroom diversity on firm innovativeness both before and after the drop in the oil prices. The results show that although gender and education do not significantly affect innovativeness of banks, having more experienced and independent board members enhances the innovation.

  1. Saudi Arabian women in entrepreneurship: Challenges, opportunities and potential

Although traditional cultural norms have tended to impede Saudi women’s engagement in entrepreneurship, there are successful female business owners in Saudi Arabia. The Saudi government, seeing female entrepreneurship as a way to strengthen both the family unit and the economy, has recently created programs to encourage more women to become business owners. However, few women have taken advantage of these programs to date. This study identifies factors that enable female business owners to realize their entrepreneurial potential. It investigates Saudi female entrepreneurs’ perceived self-efficacy, perceived desirability, perceived feasibility and propensity to act on entrepreneurial opportunities. The study suggests ways in which Saudi society can support women in realizing their entrepreneurial potential and also makes policy recommendations for government and business support entities.

  1. Implications of financial literacy on women entrepreneurship in Turkey

This research explores Turkey (regional) representative women’s expectations of future, values, attitudes and beliefs about finance, knowledge of financial instruments, saving and financial instrument utilization. The research points to a crucial finding about the necessity of economic awareness and empowerment of women in utilizing financial instruments for the development of women entrepreneurship within the Turkish context.

  1. Expanding women’s access to the banking sector: Analysis of perceptions, behavior, culture and social class of female customers towards the effectiveness of working capital financing at Islamic banks in Palembang, Indonesia

This quantitative research that was conducted with regression analysis focused on the internal factors to analyze perceptions, behavior, culture and social class of female customers towards the effectiveness of working capital financing at Islamic banking in Palembang.

  1. Does education enable underprivileged women to achieve real equality in property rights? A case study of inheritance rights of women in Turkey

Utilizing an intersectional approach, this paper argues that education can serve as a constitutive element for marginalized women to enable legislated equality as prescribed in laws to lead to real equality, the equality of outcomes. This study indicates that a higher level of education is significantly and positively associated with the likelihood of claiming to obtain equal inheritance. Therefore, mere legislation of gender-progressive laws is not sufficient to improve the experiences of women, and achieving gender equality may require improving the educational status of women. 

  1. Status of wonder women: Challenges for young future women entrepreneurs in Pakistan

This study sheds light on the challenges affecting women to succeed in business and to point out the issues faced by them being entrepreneurs. It highlights the challenges confronted by Pakistani business women and to open discussion which may empower researchers to see a clear picture of occupations and industry. This study provides recommendations assisting the federal and provincial agencies to introduce women-friendly laws to reduce gender biases as well as to take note on gender specific measure to ease the business environment for women in Pakistan. 

  1. Business-family interface and the performance of women entrepreneurs: The moderating effect of economic development (Morocco and Turkey)

This paper examines the relationships between women entrepreneurs’ firm performance and two dimensions (enrichment and interference) of the business-family interface (BFI) in the moderating context of the level of economic development in two emerging countries – Morocco and Turkey.  The results provide initial evidence that female entrepreneurs benefit from the linkages of family-to-business enrichment in different ways, depending on the country’s level of economic development. 

  1. Religion-based resistance strategies, politics of authenticity and professional women accountants (Syria)

This study examines resistance strategies to patriarchal interpretations of women’s roles in Islam by Syrian women accountants (SWAs). The article finds that SWAs significantly mobilize religion-based strategies to contest patriarchal interpretations of their roles in Islam, and to secure access and progress in the profession. These strategies go beyond shifting between defensive/compliance and offensive/challenging approaches to incorporate a third authentic/ethical dimension often neglected in professional and organization research on women’s resistance strategies. 

  1. The effect of microcredit on women empowerment in welfare and decision making in Malaysia

This study examines whether the access to microcredit organisation Amanah Ikhtiar Malaysia (AIM) affects several aspects of empowerment in urban Malaysia. A cross-sectional survey was distributed to 474 old and new clients to examine the effect of microcredit on women empowerment in decision-making process and resource controlling. Based on the propensity score matching, results show that the access to AIM microcredit affects positively women’s monthly income.

  1. Women and Risk: Does takaful have the solution? (Malaysia)

This study examines the risks faced by Malaysian women and the coverage they are offered by Islamic insurance. Among the risks faced by women are female-specific illnesses, the cost of expensive treatments, crime-related accidents or loss, social or career risks and privatization policy. Due to these risks, women are in need of female-specific takaful products to reduce risk and protect themselves.

  1. What makes Muslim women entrepreneurs successful? A field study examining religiosity and social capital in Tunisia

This study sheds light upon critical factors that help explain the entrepreneurial success among Muslim women living in a democratic Tunisia, a Muslim-majority country considered by many to be the lone Arab Spring success story. Data collected with 84 female entrepreneurs participating in entrepreneurship training programs across Tunisia reveal that two forms of social capital, marital status and wasta, are related to training center directors’ ratings of women entrepreneurs’ performance, suggesting that social capital is a critical asset for Muslim women entrepreneurs. Religiosity, on the other hand, had no statistically significant relationship with entrepreneurial performance. 

  1. Women and management: A conceptual review, with a focus on Muslim women in management roles in Western and in Muslim-majority countries

This study considers the roles of Muslim women managers, executives and professionals in three ways: as women qua women; as women of the Muslim diaspora in Western countries; and as women in Muslim Majority Cultures. This review advocates reforms in Muslim-majority countries which will allow women to enter the world of employment, and to rise to higher managerial positions. At the same time, the study observes the strong prejudices against Muslim women entering managerial positions in Western cultures, based on multiple, intersecting prejudice and discrimination against women; against visible ethnic minorities; and against those who are visibly Muslim. 

  1. Do values explain the low employment levels of Muslim women around the world? A within- and between-country analysis

Using worldwide data from the World Values Survey (WVS) gathered in 2010–2014, this study examines two distinct ways in which Islam may be associated with women's employment. It shows that, within their countries, Muslim women are less likely to be employed than women of other religions. It also examines between?country differences and find that, net of education and family statuses, the employment levels of women living in countries that are 90–100 per cent Muslim are not significantly different than those living in countries that are only 0–20 per cent Muslim.

OTHERS, including society, health, fashion, travel, law

  1. Placing faith in creative labor: Muslim women and digital media work in Britain

Since the 2000s, a rapidly expanding Muslim marketplace has offered faith-centered digital content produced by and aimed at Muslim women. In geopolitical events post 9/11, adoption of the term ‘Muslim women’, especially by younger generations, has grown in an act of supra-national identification with the Muslimah – Muslim female community – that crosses race, ethnicity, sects and class. This article highlights the experiences of Muslim women working in media as they attempt to build new Muslim female identities and spaces of belonging, and renegotiate their own position in the process.

  1. Australian Muslim women and fitness choices – myths debunked

This paper sought to better understand the underrepresentation of Muslim women living in Australia in physical activity and in group-fitness classes in particular. The authors confirmed that while religion impacted the form and place of exercise options, it did not impact the overall motivation to engage in exercise. This study has practical implications for the fitness industry attempting to attract new markets in a multi-cultural population. To attract Muslim women, gyms and fitness centers need to consider providing appropriate areas for women to exercise that allow them to maintain their modesty. To attract this segment, fitness products that are focused on a holistic approach to wellness and highlight opportunities for social interaction should be developed. 

  1. Online dating and courtship among Muslim American women: Negotiating technology, religious identity, and culture

This research examines how online dating technology affects the experience of mate selection and courtship among Muslim American women. This study contributes toward a deeper understanding of how new technologies integrate with existing religions and cultures and gives insights into the nature of technological change and adaptation in society more generally.

  1. Health knowledge, cosmetic interest, attitude and the need for health education regarding the use of topical bleaching agents among women in West Saudi Arabia: A cross-sectional study

Topical bleaching agents use is affected by culture, social customs, and health awareness regarding their chemical constituents that may harm skin and general health. This study included 531 women.

  1. ‘We are equals’; datum or delusion: perceptions of Muslim women academics in three Malaysian universities

This article draws on data from a study of Muslim women academics from three Malaysian universities to highlight the impact of dominant discourses on these women’s professional lives and their perceptions of gender equality, and discusses its implications for their professional journeys. The article argues that the feudal patriarchal structures of most Muslim societies, reinforced by vested interpretations of religious texts, validate a powerful discourse of male authority which contributes to the perception that submitting to male authority is a Muslim woman’s religious obligation. 

  1. Body covering and body image: A comparison of veiled and unveiled Muslim women, Christian women, and atheist women regarding body checking, body dissatisfaction, and eating disorder symptoms (Germany)

This study examined whether body image, body checking, and disordered eating differ between veiled and unveiled Muslim women, Christian women, and atheist women. While the groups did not differ regarding body dissatisfaction, unveiled Muslim women reported more checking than veiled Muslim and Christian women, and higher bulimia scores than Christian. Thus, prevention against eating disorders should integrate all women, irrespective of religious affiliation or veiling, with a particular focus on unveiled Muslim women.

  1. Holy anorexia: Eating disorders symptomatology and religiosity among Muslim women in the United Arab Emirates

There is a substantial body of literature reporting a negative association between religiosity and psychiatric symptoms. In the context of eating disorders, however, this relationship appears to be reversed. The present study examines this relationship among Muslim college women from the United Arab Emirates (UAE). 

  1. Transforming ‘everyday Islam’ through feminism and higher education: Second-generation Muslim women in Spain

This article analyses how second-generation Moroccan women are integrating new ways of understanding Islam and morality into their everyday.  The study is based on ethnographic research and on the life stories of young Moroccan women who attend Spanish universities. The study reveals how the participation of these women in higher education promotes the appropriation of a discourse related to Islamic feminism.

  1. Gender bias in Islamic textbooks for Muslim children in Indonesia

A literary research on the Islamic textbooks taught to the first grade Muslim students of Islamic Elementary School/ Madrasah Ibtidaiyah in Indonesia which include pictures in their teaching materials. Islamic textbooks studied in the research include Fikih, Akidah Akhlak, and Arabic textbooks. The results of this study conclude that the pictures presented in Islamic textbooks taught to Muslim children in Indonesia contain gender bias. This study recommends an improvement of pictures presented in Islamic textbooks taught to Muslim children in Indonesia.

  1. Can religious affiliation explain the disadvantage of Muslim women in the British labor market?

This article explains the labor market penalties among Muslim women in Britain. It draws on theories of intersectionality and color/cultural racism to argue that the labor market experience of British-Muslim women is multiply determined via criteria of ascription such as ethnicity, migration status, race and religion rather than criteria of achievement. The overarching finding suggests that most Muslim women, regardless of their multiple ascriptive identities, generation and levels of qualifications, still face significant penalties compared with their White-British Christian counterparts.

  1. Enacting and resisting the politics of belonging through leisure: The debate about gender-segregated swimming sessions targeting Muslim women in Denmark

In 2016 women-only swimming sessions targeting Muslims made the headlines in the Danish media, precipitating great discussion about whether such sessions contributed to or impeded social integration. This article focuses on the debate in the city council of Aarhus concerning women-onl