Women hold up half the sky


File photo shows Grameen Bank’s Muhammad Yunus in a meeting with women entrepreneurs in Dhaka. — AFP photo

NOT that I’m an expert on the topic – but let’s look at the women of Sarawak in line with the United Nations (UN)’s agenda: the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).

This is an agenda for economic empowerment of women in the member countries of the UN.

Every country is to implement this agenda within a time-frame of, say, a 30-year period. The flag-off was Jan 1, 2000.

Come 2015, however, there was not anything much to show, especially for women in under-developed and developing countries.

Why? Because the constant internal and external political problems dominated daily life – survival or death.

Money was largely spent on the purchases of weapons. So the agenda was extended to 2030 with emphasis on:

  1. eradicating extreme poverty and hunger;
  2. achieving universal primary education;
  3. promoting gender equality and empowering women;
  4. reducing child mortality;
  5. improving maternal health;
  6. combating HIV/AIDS, Malaria and other diseases, and;
  7. ensuring environmental sustainability.

I will touch briefly on the promotion of gender equality, and women empowerment to reduce extreme poverty.

Repeat, have the women of Sarawak been treated fairly at all in terms of the UN SDGs?

I have not read audit reports of any project that has been implemented in the state, referring, in particular, to any project carried out under the auspices of Amanah Ikhtiar Malaysia (AIM).

There are ministries of women and family development at the Federal Cabinet level, as well as in the Sarawak Cabinet, for the purpose of overseeing and monitoring policy implementation of those programmes on the ground.

The mechanism is in place.

Not the question.

Does the mechanism work? How successful have been the income-generation programmes conducted by AIM in poor villages or longhouses in the state?

AIM is a group credit system in Bangladesh, and the concept was copied by Malaysians.

But we hear very little about it in Sarawak. I have not come across any longhouse woman who has applied for a loan from AIM.

Admittedly, I have not made a thorough survey. I may be out of date there.

Thinking outside the box

Ever heard about the Grameen Bank? Its founder, Nobel Peace Prize winner Prof Muhammad Yunus of Bangladesh, is a man who thinks outside the box.

For years the poor village women villages there had been borrowing from moneylenders, in order to finance small business ventures. But whenever any borrower could not repay the loan plus the interest, their land was sold to the moneylender.

As a result, many women became worse off – they lost the opportunity of earning a living, compounded by the loss of property.

No need for a collateral

Muhammad Yunus had an unconventional idea, but practicable in certain circumstances.

It would be possible to do away with the collateral as a guarantee for repayment of a loan, if the women from several villages focused on one or two projects from start to finish, and to repay the loan on time.

Funding? A village banking system, called the Grameen Bank, lends money without the borrower having to pledge a piece of land as collateral.

At each group of six or seven villages, there is a management team consisting of two key officials from the bank – someone who knows about the basic principles of bookkeeping, and another employee to provide on-the-job training on marketing and advertising.

Over time, the women were able to manage their ventures repaying loans without fail and without direct supervision by the central bank based in Dhaka.

The reports that I managed to read about this credit system are glowing. It has benefitted millions of women in Bangladesh.

I am told that one of the keys to the success of this system is the collective character of the women themselves. As borrowers, they can be trusted with repaying the loan promptly.

Since the 1970s, there have been a number of such programmes, mainly carried out in Peninsular Malaysia; after a while, branches were formed in Sarawak.

The initial funding for the establishment of the bank came from federal government sources.

Yes, the Grameen Bank has done wonders for the poor women of Bangladesh.

Yes, the system could be implemented here, provided that their loans are properly managed.

The women can do it!

Another deal

Another deal worth thinking about for the benefit of married women would be a law that provides for an equal share in the family home.

In the 1960s, New Zealand enacted the Joint Home Ownership Act 1964. That law says the land with a house on it belongs to the husband and wife in equal shares (50-50).

If, for any reason, the husband leaves his wife or dies, the ownership of the property belongs to the surviving spouse. This guarantees that the left-behind spouse has the roof under his or her head always, rain or shine.

It is not necessary for anybody to move out of the house as often happens after a divorce or death, or when the mortgage cannot be regularly serviced.

Ask any lawyer in town how often they are asked to solve problems of this kind.

This kind of law may save a lot of time in haggling over ownership, mortgage payment, etc.

I urge my lady readers to start lobbying your YBs to propose a similar law when the next Dewan Undangan Negeri meets.

It is possible that there have been certain amendments to the Joint Home Ownership Act, but the original purpose remains.

It is necessary, though, to have the joint property insured to avoid problems with the failure to service the mortgage and foreclosure of the facility, if the property is still pledged to the bank.

Keeping a family together after a calamity is surely of great importance, not just to the persons concerned, but to society at large.

If a new law can help, let’s enact such a law in Sarawak!