Sunday, July 12, 2020

Kenyans turning to mobile loans in times of COVID-19

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People of Kenya | Source: Flightlog via Wikimedia

The economic impact of COVID-19 is felt on the personal finance of people across the world who are looking for ways to tide over the situation. In Kenya, people are lapping the short-term credit in the form of digital loans by mobile money operators. The number of people taking digital loans has doubled during the COVId-19 induced lockdown period.

Boston Consulting Group's Consumer Sentiments Survey conducted in April and May 2020 reported that "In May, 29 percent responded that they had taken out a short-term loan, compared to 16 percent in April. Mobile money operators were the most common sources of this credit”

Kenya is a pioneer in using mobile money transfer services as the key tool for providing financial inclusion to its citizens. A simple money transfer service, M-PESA launched in 2007 has transformed the financial service industry in Kenya. Today mobile money operators are providing multiple services like digital loans, marketplace for small businesses and farmers.

Digital loans are easy to process and disbursed but there are concerns of shaming the defaulters and compromising the data security of clients. The Digital Lenders Association of Kenya (DLAK) which is a body representing the digital lenders of Kenya has distanced from two of their members, Okash and Opesa over unethical practices. These mobile apps have shared the details of defaulting customers with the moneylenders and asking them to recover the money.

DLAK also stated that Opesa and Okash are known for attacking a client's data privacy which is against the Kenyan data protection laws and has additionally spoiled the reputation of digital leaders in Kenya.

In April 2020, Central Bank of Kenya barred unregulated digital mobile lenders from forwarding the names of loan defaulters to credit reference bureaus. A huge number of Kenyans have been recorded on Credit Reference Bureaus by digital money lenders for loans as little as $5.

Central Bank of Kenya governor Patrick Njoroge told during a press conference in May 2020 that the central bank in consultation with the mobile money operators and digital lenders is presently working to develop a model where the borrowers are protected from mistreatment of online moneylenders.

The borrowers are looking up to the regulatory authorities and the industry bodies to come up with a mechanism which will protect their interest in times of such a health and economic emergency.

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October 23, 2020 3:57 PM

Male gaze, their female guardians and sports-wear

In Helen Cixous’ essay, ‘The Laugh of Medusa’, she urges women to redefine what their body means to them, not just physically but also socially, emotionally and politically. This could happen by re-writing about your body in a way you deem  fit, the expression you identify with and separating it from how your body has been written about by men. The expression could be how you view your body separate from the patriarchal lense.

It is no secret that a woman’s body is subject to critique. While clothing for men is just a tool to cover themselves as per the surrounding environment, clothing for women isa social and political narrative that dictates their life or as we affectionately call it ‘culturally appropriate’.

The clothing style could vary. It could be a woman covered head to toe in a Burqa, it could be a woman who decides to wear sports-wear in a park or it could be jeans and a top. Everything is critically evaluated by men and by women who work towards protecting the male gaze.

The male gaze is a heterosexual way of looking at female bodies that sexualises these bodies into an object. It is a gaze that runs on the self-affirmative notion that the bodies of women, and what they do with it, is directly linked to how they  appear in front of a man.

In a recent incident in Bangalore, India, popular Indian actress Samyuktha Hegde was abused and threatened by senior political leader of the congress party, Kavitha Reddy,  for wearing sports-wear, in Bangalore’s Agara Lake park. She was exercising with her friend.

Kavitha Reddy initially claimed she was in indecent attire and went onto morally police and then later abused the actress and her friend.  A supposedly progressive political leader gets uncomfortable by what women are wearing. It breaks into an argument and a fight where the politician is supported by five to six men. Later on, the police appear to be appeasing the politician instead of the women who were harassed. Although she did apologise, her apology came after her video went viral, and as a protection for her own political reputation.

To look at Samyuktha Hegde’s clothing as a threat is to view her clothing as an act of obscenity therefore bullying her identity and sense of agency and reducing her to sexual object, who, by putting her in public, apparently gives the men present a right to look at her? Nevermind that she was there to workout like everyone else, her actions were confused as to how men look at her. In the video posted by the actress, the politician is surrounded by men who are championing her on. The politician choses to side with the patriarchal figures in shaming these women. Asking to protect from the male gaze is a far stretch but punishing women for the male gaze is where we should draw a line.

What roles does Kavitha Reddy play? She is the guardian of the male gaze. We find her in our mothers, in our grandmothers, in aunties and sometimes our friends. She understands a woman’s body as an object that is there to be looked at by men. She gets angry at women for wearing certain kinds of clothing but she is not angry at men for looking. The agency in this case always belongs to men.

When Cixous asks women to re-define their identity, she urges us to strangle the moral police that comes alive in such instances. It is the moral police that shames women for wearing clothes that don’t flatter their bodies or clothes that do flatter them. She urges us to reflect upon the source of such vigilance. Do we shame other women because we believe in what we are saying or our identity is partially (or  wholly) shaped by the male gaze?

Whether we chose to wear a burqa, or a dress, or variations of the new type clothing produced everyday, the crux of the matter is that it should not worry anyone apart from the one wearing it. The identity of a woman, sexual or otherwise, has to be redefined to be separated from the men and their gaze. We have to draw a line otherwise people in power will continue to abuse their power and preserve patriarchy and male gaze.

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