Women and Microfinancing [Week 12]

Family, photo credit to Emily Abrams, used under Creative Commons
Family, photo credit to Emily Abrams, used under Creative Commons

Marginalization of Women in the Workforce

Women have been marginalized on the workforce not only because of their sex, but alsofor a number of other reasons. There is a feminization of poverty, or the specifically female aspect of being impoverished, that is key here. Women often find themselves in jobs of hard, repetitive labor, a direct result of not being able to obtain a better job. Women also suffer from lower wages and threats to personal safety.

Linda Mayoux details in her article Tackling the Down Side: Social Capital, Women’s Empowerment and Microfinance, the idea of “social capital”.  This concept is more about the positive benefits that can be had in a social context rather than an economic one. Many women lack this social capital. There is also the concept of purdah, or the concept of appropriate spaces for women to adhere to, pointed out in Naila Kabeer’s article Conflict over Credit: Re-Evaluating the Empowerment Potential of Loans in Women in Rural Bangladesh. Women are expected in many developing nations to adhere to traditional gender roles, and even when work is allowed, it is restrained to certain places, especially in the home.

Women at a market in Bandarban, Chittagong Hill, Bangladesh, used under Creative Commons
Women at a market in Bandarban, Chittagong Hill, Bangladesh, photo credit to jankie, used under Creative Commons

The main focus in making positive changes is to create safe, stable working environments for women. It is difficult to change the kind of jobs that are available, or even the perception of women in these jobs, but it is possible to try and make work environments as safe and dependable as possible. Women in Burkina Faso have a tremendous struggle, as the traditional roles of being beneath men in status and decision-making power result in their low levels of employment or control within their own households.

Positives and Negatives of Micro-loans

While microfinancing as a whole is given a positive image, it can also be argued that the effects on women are negative. Naila Kabeer details in her article Conflict over Credit that while women can receive the funds, it can also be an illusion that covers that men, the traditional heads of households, are truly controlling the funds. Many women work from home, and while micro-loans can help them substantially improve their businesses and foster a sense of indepence and control, many women are also used by their husbands or other male family members as a means to obtain financing. The men, who then do not feel the responsiblity, fail to repay the money. This is summarized well in a quote from Kabeer’s work, where she details that women then have “responsibility without control.”

This article by Aneel Karnari would argue that micro-financing really doesn’t empower women economically, but rather gives them power in other ways. I would argue that while this is true, it is grossly under-valuing the power of these loans. In order to pull a country out of poverty, you must empower the whole nation–you cannot pick and choose who you want to empower, whether that be the entreprenuers or the rural farmers, the economically-oriented or the structurally oriented, the men or the women. By giving women a little more power in their homes, that is more power in their communities. Microloans do not have to be all about the financial empowerment.

Business at a sari workshop, photo by waterdotorg, used under Creative Commons
Business at a sari workshop, photo by waterdotorg, used under Creative Commons

Micro-loans do have positive impacts for women, including allowing them more decision-making power in their households. With the use of loans, women also have more power to make their choice of purchases, save money, and freedom from the rule of their respective families. Kabeer even identifies an increased awareness of social and political affairs, something that comes with the responsibility of making and obtaining income. Melinda Gates introduces a very important, and not often seen, visual in her New York Times essay about the women who lacks economic control. She is forever at the mercy of money, and microloans can give women some of that power back.

Micro-loans in Burkina Faso

In Burkina Faso, there are a few micro-loans programs that stand out. One of them, Youthstart, is managed by the United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF). The goal of Youthstart is to help provide young people with access to funding, as well as increasing access to developing and maintaining services directed towards young people. Youthstart is currently active in Burkina Faso. The UNCDF also runs MicroLead, an institution which among other duties, can allot localized microfinance institutions funds on a competitve basis to allow them to expand their capabilities. The Aga Khan Agency for Microfinance also instituted a microfinance institution in Burkina Faso, which focuses on delivering loans  and financing directly targeted towards agricultural activities.

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