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Islamic Finance gender gap closes as trends change

Region's institutions more open to hiring women executives and scholars

Image Credit: Bloomberg
Zeti Akhtar Aziz, central bank governor of Malaysia. Malaysia’s central bank and the securities commission are both headed by women.
Gulf News

Kuala Lumpur: Asian Islamic financial institutions are attracting more women executives and scholars to fill a shortage of talent, setting a precedent for companies in the Middle East.

Malaysia's Sharia Advisory Council appointed a second woman scholar to its 11-member board in November.

Indonesia has six women on its panel of 35 experts, Ma'ruf Amin, chairman of the country's National Sharia Council, said in an interview December 30. Malaysia's central bank and the securities commission are both headed by women, while Liza Mohd Noor is chief executive officer at RAM Rating Services Bhd., which provides ratings for Islamic bonds.

"Previously, it was difficult for women to enter the industry; now people have broken that boundary, especially in Malaysia," Aznan Hassan, associate professor at the Kuala Lumpur-based International Islamic University Malaysia, said in a December 20 interview. "More women are coming in and this is good because we need people."

Encouraging women to work in Islamic finance will help meet demand for experts in an industry the Islamic Financial Services Board estimates has been growing 20 per cent annually since 2000, with assets exceeding $1 trillion (Dh3.67 trillion).

About 50,000 professionals will be needed globally over the next five to seven years to meet demand, Ishaq Bhatti, the director of Melbourne-based La Trobe University's Islamic banking and finance programme, said in a recent interview in Kuala Lumpur. The lack of prominent female banking executives stems from "history, culture and perceptions of women," said Nida Raza, senior vice president of capital markets at Unicorn Investment Bank BSC in Manama.

In Saudi Arabia, a Sunni Muslim-majority country where women are required to have a male guardian, about 15 per cent of the labour force was female in 2009, according to a report by the Geneva-based International Labour Organisation, a United Nations agency.


"Getting a visa to Saudi is really difficult, and even when I'm there I face various challenges," Noripah Kamso, chief executive officer of Kuala Lumpur-based CIMB-Principal Islamic Asset Management Sdn. Bhd., a unit of CIMB Group Holdings Bhd., the world's biggest sukuk arranger, said in an interview. "I was once chased by a Saudi police officer because I entered from the wrong door, and travelling without a male colleague is impossible." As interest in the industry grows, women, including those from the Middle East, are likely to play a greater role, said Engku Rabiah Adawiah Engku Ali, the first female appointee to Malaysia's Sharia Advisory Council and an associate professor at the Ahmad Ebrahim Kuliyyah of Laws, International Islamic University.

A shortage of scholars increases the risk of conflicts of interest as many sit on various advisory boards at the same time, according to the Manama-based Accounting and Auditing Organisation for Islamic Financial Institutions, an industry standards setting body.

Shaikh Nizam Yaquby of Bahrain and Syria's Abdul Sattar Abu Ghuddah, who each serve on 85 boards of Islamic financial institutions, ranked first by the number of seats among the top 20 religious experts in an October report from Zawya, an online Middle East business news and directory, and Funds@Work AG, a Kronberg, Germany-based consulting company.