Islamic Investor, March 2010
Malaysia has an uncommonly high representation of women at senior levels in Islamic finance. In addition to the heads of the central bank and securities commission, one could point to Noripah Kamso, head of the biggest Islamic fund manager, CIMB-Principal; Jamelah Jamaluddin, now head of Kuwait Finance House for Asia and previously MD of RHB Islamic Bank; Fozia Amanulla, head of Eoncap Islamic Bank; Engku Rabiah Adawiah, probably the most senior female Shariah scholar; and Nor Rejina Abdul Rahim, who heads Nomura Asset Management in Malaysia, among the most active foreign fund managers in Malaysian Islamic finance.
One of the younger members of this successful group is Raja Teh Maimunah, who followed a career in investment banking, including stints at UIB Capital, CIMB, RHB Sakura (now RHB Islamic) and KFH, with her current role at the stock exchange, spearheading Islamic finance product development and market policy. She argues that the prominence of women in the industry in Malaysia is partly that, “from a gender point of view, I’ve never had a glass ceiling,” and is partly more practical. “In Asia you live as extended families: it’s easy to drop each other’s children off with one another to help out. And the more critical element is the availability and affordability of helpers.” She has three children.
A frequent ambassador for Malaysia elsewhere in the Islamic world, she is under no illusion that the same opportunities exist for women elsewhere. On a trip to Saudi Arabia, with a perfectly valid business visa, she was refused entry to the country because she was not travelling with her husband, “accompanied with a few comments on how shamefully I was behaving.” On another more recent visit to Riyadh, she was not permitted, as a woman, to enter a building for a meeting.
Bursa presented her with the opportunity to jump from deal-making to the other side of the fence, a move she has found rewarding. “I wanted to contribute and make a difference, to push through changes in industry, and this gave me the platform,” she says. Among the most significant developments closely associated with her has been the development of Bursa Suq al-Sila, the first Shariah-compliant commodity trading platform. “This is an industry where everybody has got to help to build it,” she says. “It’s not like a conventional bank where it is just about your bottom line. In this industry, to get to a bottom line, you have to build something, and then earn something from it.” The structure of Bursa has also allowed her to be involved in regulatory development as well as product, and has led to lengthy dialogue with other standard-setting bodies around the world.
Though a thoughtful interviewee on Islam itself, she is also vocal on the importance of Islamic finance beyond its religious relevance. “Being on this side has helped me to articulate that this is not just about social inclusion or a faith-based agenda. It’s really about a financial alternative that is viable following the crisis, and it should be made more available whether you believe in the religion or not.”
Its funny though, speaking of empowering women, the very maids/helpers whom these women rely on are not very empowered, subsisting on menial wages for 24 hour days, acting as cook, mum, cleaner, car washer, gardener, etc etc, especially Indonesian maids. The availability of such “help” is because these women have no other choice but to accept a somewhat slave/master relationship in most Malaysian homes, having their passports held and their pay docked to pay for their entry/fees to the agent.