During the last thirty years the United States succeeded in showcasing themselves as the owner of free markets and expanded the concept of the free market to include individuals as well as private and governmental institutions. This concept was adopted by many people and governments around the world. They had the so-called soft power, imposing their hegemony on the world with their threadbare capitalism.
The woman was affected by this economic policy just like the rest of individuals and groups. It says in a report, prepared by the World Bank recently, that women’s rights have improved significantly throughout the world in the past fifty years. Although in about 90% of the total 143 countries covered in this report, there still exists at least one law that prohibits women from certain jobs, opening a bank account, receiving capital or making independent decisions. The study showed that there are ten or more aspects of legal discrimination between the rights of men and women in 28 countries. Half of these countries lie in the Middle East and North Africa and 11 of these countries are in sub-Saharan Africa.
The report shows that when there is discrimination in the legal rights of men and women, the number of women who own special projects decreases, while the income inequality increases. This result could lead to a fresh look at the issue of improving economic opportunities for women and the consequent reduction of the poverty rate in the world. Jim Yong Kim, president of the World Bank, said on the occasion of the publication of the “Women’s work and the law” report, “When men and women participate in economic life on an equal footing, they can contribute with their abilities in building a close-knit community and a robust economy.”
Many countries around the world began to remove legal obstacles to women’s participation in economic life. However, progress in this area has been uneven. Evidence shows that women’s lack of economic opportunity is strongly associated with persistent poverty between generations. The action plan on gender equality, proceeded by the World Bank and its partners in implementation and which will take four years at a cost of $24.5 million, aims to equip women with what they need to be able to compete in the four areas of economy: labor market, credit, land ownership and agriculture, which will return benefit and interest to their families and the economy as a whole.
The World Bank has also prepared another report about entrepreneurship in the Middle East and North Africa, especially women-owned businesses. This report aims to provide a deep understanding of the barriers faced by the investment and business activities which are common and rampant from the perspective of all investors, as well as those barriers and obstacles affecting businesswomen alone or which at least have a greater degree of impact on them as opposed to businessmen. The Bank has conducted investigative surveys in enterprise businesses in the formal economic sector, with the participation of more than 5100 institutions belonging to eight Middle Eastern countries (Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Palestine, and Yemen). These investigative surveys addressed details about the features and characteristics of companies and institutions, and collected answers from male-owned firms, as well as those owned by women. These questions raised about the perceived obstacles were posed in 18 survey categories related to the investment climate.
According to the report it became clear that the percentage of women-owned businesses in these eight countries did not exceed 13% of the 5169 companies included in this survey, which is little more than one company owned by a woman out of every eight companies. Business-women form a minority everywhere, but the proportion of women in the Middle East and North Africa is much lower compared to other middle-income areas, such as East Asia, Latin America, the Caribbean, Europe and Central Asia.
The report stated that among the important challenges of economic growth are the enhancement and the empowerment of the role of women, especially in the economic and political spheres. It noted the continued lack of participation of women in these areas. Several decades ago, women formed the least educated class, which made up only a small slice of human capital in the region. The cost caused by the barriers that blocked women from assuming her natural place at the time was relatively small compared to the cost arising from these barriers currently, after decades of investment in the education of women, who make up nearly half of the human capital of the region.
Whereas, according to the report, women-owned businesses stand on firm and stable foundations, just like male-owned firms. Around 40% of women-owned businesses are individually owned projects of businesswomen. This is a good percentage, albeit lower than the special male-owned firms which amount to 60%. In Syria and Morocco, where data are available, more than 65% of women manage the firms they own, refuting the argument that they possess those companies in name only. To a large extent women-owned businesses are similar to male-owned businesses in terms of sectorial distribution, as about 85% of women-owned businesses work in the industrial sector and 15% in the services sector, compared to 88% and 10% respectively for companies owned by men.
In terms of activity, the report found that women-owned businesses are active in the areas of export and attract foreign investors, as well as the extensive use of information technology, all of the ingredients and essential elements of the ability to compete globally. Foreign investors show a large presence in women-owned businesses in Morocco. There is a denotable increase in women-owned businesses using e-mails and websites in communication with clients.
In support of this approach and the idea of “women supporting the economy” the Economic Forum for Women in the APEC countries was established in 1989, including 21 countries overlooking the Pacific Ocean which seek to promote free trade and economic cooperation in the Asian Pacific, which was held in Bali and Indonesia. Also there are the private women initiatives launched by Ooredoo – one of the fastest growing telecommunications companies in the world – to help them in the use of technology and innovations for contributing to the renaissance and progress of their communities. It provides a platform for government agencies and private sector organizations to discuss how organizations can assist members in promoting the inclusion of women in the economy and work to resist the effects on the local and regional economy which still exist due to discrimination between men and women. The first meeting, which focused their research on women in 1998, addressed the call to facilitate women’s access to education, training, finance, technology and infrastructure to increase their contribution to the economic development.
Hillary Clinton said before a diverse audience of representatives of governments, businesses and academics from 21 member economies in the APEC forum: “We want to help governments use their purchasing power to support women entrepreneurs and the development of their economies.” She added: “We are working with the United Nations Centre for International Trade in order to improve the capacity of APEC member governments to deal with businesses owned by women.”
Morocco was among the countries that helped the governments to use their purchasing power to support women entrepreneurs and the development of their economies. The economic and trade agreements, which stood behind the submission of Morocco to European and American capitalism, are still continuous in perpetuating Morocco’s dependency on the circles of imperialism of the 21st century. Among such agreements was a partnership agreement between Morocco and the European Union in 1996 under which the two parties entered into the free trade which began in 2000 and merged into gradient application in 2012. Also there was the free trade agreement between Morocco and the United States in 2004, which entered into force in 2006, followed by a free trade agreement with Turkey and the Gulf States, leading to the comprehensive and in-depth free trade agreement with the European Union and, which launched negotiations in April 2013. All of these agreements are but colonial agreements that do not come out of the context of all the former colonial conventions and treaties. Rather they are a continuation of them, despite the different forms and types. Women were affected just like the rest of the individuals and groups in this economic policy and we will review the policies and methods used to push the Moroccan woman to compete in the labor market under the pretext of strengthening her status and empowerment.
In an interview Sheikha Hessa stressed that Arab women have become a real engine for the development of integrated and sustainable development of joint Arab action to reach the desired global economic integration. She emphasized that efforts are focused on enabling Arab women’s small and medium enterprises to reach appropriate conditions of production and marketing, and on supporting through necessary funding under preferential terms and facilitated loans. This shall be carried out particularly in the countries of North Africa and the Middle East, noting that Moroccan and Algerian women are working mostly in handicrafts and traditional industry, which lacks the potential to evolve and break markets. She explained that the objective of this ambition of empowerment is to increase the capacity of Arab women to compete in entrepreneurship and encourage income-generating activities so as to push up household income, creating wealth and jobs especially for young girls.
She praised the accession of women from the Association of Women Entrepreneurs of Morocco and the Moroccan General of the Council of Arab Businesswomen and their involvement in the large-scale project, which hopes to be the starting shot for Arab women entrepreneurs to become high-performance enterprises, enabling Arab women from broad areas to participate in economic and social development. This association called “Association of Women Entrepreneurs of Morocco” (AFEM), which wants to instill the spirit of entrepreneurship among Moroccan women in partnership with the American Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI), founded the first private incubator for small women businesses in Northern Africa. Through its “Casa’s Female Pioneers” project, this association trains women to create and manage a business successfully. Marrakech hosted the session of the 61st World Congress of the World Association for Women in Business on 25-29 September 2013, chaired by Princess Lalla Maryam, President of the National Union of Moroccan Women. It was attended by more than 700 female directors of enterprises who came from 70 countries from around the world and discussed the subject of “Business Women…Steady Values for a Sustainable Performance” for four days.
Also small businesses owned by women form the basis of solidary economy in Morocco. There are many families living thanks to mothers, widows and divorcees who implement a number of small projects. The number of companies run by women in Morocco amounts to 10 % of the economic fabric, counting about 12 thousand small companies. Fouad Bin Sadiq, member of the Social and Economic Council, said that a field study conducted recently showed that Morocco will lose 30% of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) if businesswomen did not receive better legal and economic protection.
Morocco has recently launched a program under the name of “Opening up for Her” in order to encourage institutions and small businesses to use information technology. This program is an integral part of a broader program of openness which was launched in advance. The project aims to ensure the continuity of small businesses owned by women through the provision of adequate and appropriate support. The Director of the National Agency for Promotion of Small and Medium Businesses, Latifa Ash-Shihabi, said that the number of 2,500 licenses granted so far has been impressive and it should accelerate the pace of implementation of this process. She also said: “We have launched two other initiatives today: ‘Opening up for Her’, in addition to the signing of agreements with telecom companies and private training programs.”
During the launching ceremony of the program in Rabat, the Minister of Industry, Trade and New Technologies, Abdulqader Amara, confirmed to channel “Mgharbeyyah” that this ambitious program aimed at female entrepreneurs exclusively. He said: “The aim of the program is to motivate these ladies to use digital technology as a means to modernize their businesses and create jobs.”
The new program comes as a product of a partnership between the government and the National Agency for the revitalization of small and medium enterprises, which aims to urge institutions and businesses owned by women to use the openness program to the fullest extent of its capabilities through the targeting of women entrepreneurs in particular. This is done by training the benefitting female entrepreneurs in the use of information technology and afterwards receiving a digital license which allows them to benefit from the package of services provided by the program of “Opening up for Her”.
The detailed offer includes a laptop and an Internet access for 12 months and special programs for “digital billing” at a reduced price – a discount of 30% from the original price of the package. The digital license allows taking advantage of special and facilitated offers, obtained by the female entrepreneurs with respect to digital devices and solutions, as well as funding. Since its recent launch, the “Opening up for Her” program welcomed more than 2,700 enterprises and hosted more than 222 training courses offered by private institutions for the benefit of business owners in order to increase the number of subscribers appropriately. The support provided by the government does not exceed 30%, while most participants need a rate of 50% to achieve the best renovation for their institutions. In the view of Najad Zayn ad-Din, one of the beneficiaries of the openness program, it is of vital importance to the institution to introduce information technologies in the structure of the institution: “It will give me the opportunity to open up my enterprise, which is engaged in the market of the food industry.”
Two initiatives were launched in Morocco in late 2009: “Privilege” and “Support”. Both initiatives provide access to bank loans for all small and medium businesses. They also aim to improve the operational efficiency of the sector of small and medium enterprises with regard to its importance for the economy of Morocco, due to its contribution to about 90% of the GDP. A study at the end of the millennium showed that 92% of the total companies are medium or small. The government, that well realized these issues, played an active and prominent role through the establishment of the National Agency for Small and Medium Enterprises (ANPME) in 2003, which merged 16 regional investment centers in one network to support Morocco, by holding a regional forum on the maintenance of companies.
The MEPI and Azhaar Association of Solidarity and Awareness in Morocco entered into a partnership for the reintegration of divorced women and victims of violence into Moroccan society. Through the project – “Integration Training for Mothers from the Victims of Violence and for Divorced Women” – the Azhaar Association educates women about their rights and provides them with practical, social and legal support. During a six-month period 65 women benefited from raising the level of awareness of their rights, and received legal assistance and practical training on income-generating activities. The economic situation of women who have been victims of violence and divorced women is crucial, especially after the divorce, as for the majority of them their husband was the source of financial support. To help these women, this project will provide training courses on pottery, glazing, sculpturing, and decorative arts, so that women can acquire marketable income-generating skills.
The project went beyond the practical training, providing counseling sessions and support for women who have been subjected to verbal, physical and sexual abuse as such support will help them to regain their self-confidence. S. Al-Fays, a 44 -year-old participant of the project, says: “I have suffered a lot because of the poor behavior of my ex-husband and his ill- treatment. He beat me when he was drunk until I lost consciousness. After a long journey of suffering, I heard about the training sessions provided by the Azhaar Association. This project helps me rebuilding my life, practicing a profession, and identifying my rights.”
Hakima Hamur, one of the participants, said: “I am 22 years old and divorced. I lived with my husband abroad and he was married to two more women. I lived with them in the same house. I have suffered a lot and went back to Morocco. When I came back it was difficult to find a job, especially since I did not earn any college degrees. I have attended the training courses given by the Azhaar Association, and was able to acquire new skills, such as the art design.” Hamur went on, saying: “I have regained my self-confidence after a bitter experience. I lack the serious words to say it, but one cannot imagine the extent of respect and gratitude that I have for this Association, as well as for all other organizations that finance these types of projects.” Thanks to the legal support provided by the project, a large number of women took their cases to the courts, and many of them have been decided.
There are other women’s associations working to spread the idea of “women supporting the economy”, such as the “Reviving Female Entrepreneurship in Morocco Association” (ESPOD), the “Women’s Tribune” Association, the “Organization for the Renewal of Female Awareness”, and “The Zahra’ Forum for the Moroccan Woman” which is composed of eighty Associations, the “National Association of Embracement”, the “Association of Dignity”, and other women’s associations and organizations.
From all of the above we see the great interest of the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund and the Moroccan government paid to the idea of “the woman as an economic impulse” and “entrepreneurship for women”. Therefore they take up measures and programs, establish associations and institutions, as well as holding conventions, conferences and seminars to encourage more women to take up jobs and businesses, and to assist in the growth of women-owned business by deluding them that this is the way to secure their lives and alleviate poverty and create economic prosperity and empowerment of women and to prove herself, her character, her equity, her equality and her rights. These rights, lost due to this prevailing capitalist system, which has forced women to go out to work on the grounds of equality and economic empowerment, made the woman bear her burdens and the burdens of men and left her struggling to spend on herself and sometimes her children, while this is the man’s duty towards the woman. These women no longer find the necessary time to sit with their children and care for them. We see women as heads of households in both, the absence of the husband or even in his presence. These women have lost their sense of security as a result of the greed of the capitalist system which made them postpone marriage and motherhood because of work and the need to secure themselves from the dependency on others, as they think. The West has played this game to push women in the Islamic world into the labor market, employment, and competition, taking advantage of the poor economic conditions, poverty and destitution. The results were low-wage employments exploiting women and girls. Jo Becker, director of the advocacy for the protection of children’s rights, said in a report by Human Rights Watch: “The girls in Morocco are exposed to exploitation and abuse, and are forced to work long hours for extremely low wages. Most of the girls that have been interviewed have suffered physical and verbal harm at the hands of employers. Some of the girls said, the employers beat them with their hands, belts and wooden sticks, shoes and plastic pipes. They have also been subjected to harassment and sexual assaults by male relatives of the employers.” Most of the girls who were interviewed come from poor rural areas. The intermediaries in almost half of the cases bring the girls to work in larger cities after making false, deceptive promises about working conditions.
It was also taken advantage of the social conditions and the distance from the Shar’i provisions in family relations, to push women into making work and employment their first priority. They have attributed the violence suffered by many women to the woman’s lack of “empowerment”, even if she is exposed to this violence while working. This was shown in the report of the Moroccan Observatory of Violence against Women, “Female Eyes”. The report was announced recently in Casablanca and was published in the media, which monitored 47.587 cases of violence against 5.245 women. The report pointed out that 58 percent of victims of violence are women who do not execute any profitable activity. They are economically dependent (most of whom are housewives), while women who are workers and employees represent only 18 percent!
The one observing the situation of Moroccan women will find that they are living a lie, saying that paid work is the way to a life of dignity and the alleviation of poverty. In fact this is nothing but regulated economic exploitation, viewing women as cheap labor by capitalist enterprises and governments, seeking to increase profits and revenues. They equate this with increasing female labor, while mostly it is informal labor with low wages, which means more misery, injustice and economic difficulties from which the woman will keep suffering as long as she lives under this system and its rotten policies, regardless of whether she is working or not. Even women who run their businesses or work independently, under the laws of the capitalist system – which does not recognize other than the strong, who subjects to the policies of this system of greed ¬– are in conflict and constant concern about survival and avoidance of bankruptcy. For example, during the last ten years, Morocco’s central bank withdrew accreditation from twenty small financial companies, including 12 companies specializing in consumer loans, due to their lack of response to the adoption of new standards for financial institutions, thus leading to the bankruptcy of those companies. That is why the main cause of poverty and lack of systematic empowerment of women at the global level is the corruption of the capitalist free-market policies that manipulate foreign trade systems and the tax system in favor of foreign companies at the expense of local merchants.
We conclude from this that there is no system that protects and empowers women except the System of Islam, with its sound economic system and policy, capable of solving poverty, as well as providing financial security and economic well-being and finally the care that the Shariah has made incumbent on male relatives or the state. At the same time the woman is given the right to work in decent, safe conditions, instead of exploitation, abuse or repression.
Written for the Central Media Office of Hizb ut Tahrir by
Umm Suhaib ash-Shami