Women and Microfinance
Microfinance gets its popularity and fame from Mohammad Yunus, who began experimenting with lending to poor women in the village of Jobra, Bangladesh, during his tenure as a professor of economics at Chittagong University, in the 1970s. In 2006, he won the Nobel Peace prize for pioneering the concepts of microfinance and establishing the Grameen Bank in 1983.
The last twenty years have shown that microfinance is a proven development tool capable of providing vast numbers of the poor, particularly women, with sustainable financial services to support their livelihoods. The 2005 State of the Microcredit Summit Campaign reports that microfinance institutions reached over ninety-two million clients and benefited 333 million family members.1 The success of microfinance represents a paradigm shift in the development industry: poor people are no longer recipients of charity, but customers to be served. Women make up approximately eighty-three percent, or sixty-six million, of reported microfinance clients. They not only make good clients - women have proven better at paying on time than men - but are also key drivers of development. Investing in women, literally, has proven the most effective way to increase individual family expenditures on health and education, improve nutrition and food security, protect against emergencies, and begin the slow process of tackling the gender inequalities that hinder development in so many countries around the world. The below article examines the microfinance movement and the impact it has had on women who, in many ways, have been the reason behind its success. In developing countries, women play a pivotal role as risk managers and drivers of development, particularly in settings of severe poverty. Microfinance programs have enabled thousands of women to use small sums in creative and successful ways to develop livelihoods, improve their families' well-being, and build up savings. However, microfinance has proven limited in its ability to really empower women, create upward mobility, and contribute to long-term economic growth. More is needed if we are to help the poor, especially women, move beyond subsistence-level, small income generating activities to become full social and economic participants in their country.
For example, a study on Wisdom, an MFI in Ethiopia, examined the impact of microfinance on women borrowers in two regions most heavily affected by drought. The study compared two control groups of incoming borrowers and community members matched by sex and selected at random. The results revealed a statistically significant increase among the women borrowers (as opposed to male borrowers and non-borrowers) in nutritional status of both women and children, higher diversification of income, greater household income, greater land and home ownership, and reduced receipt of food aid.
Microfinance and Gender Inequality
An increase in the proportion of women accessing microfinance services by just 15% could potentially reduce gender inequality, as measured by the Gender Inequality Index, by half in the average developing nation. The finding comes from a recent study published in Applied Economics Letters that also found that cultural characteristics can influence this relationship.
"Microfinance enables poor women to engage in income-generating activities, which helps them become financially independent, strengthening their decision-making power within the household and society. Consequently, microfinance has the potential to reduce gender inequality (GI). Case-study evidence from across the developing world both supports and contradicts this hypothesis. We therefore revisit this issue using macroeconomic cross-country panel data for 64 developing economies over the period 2003–2014. We find that women’s participation in microfinance is associated with a reduction in GI. However, regional interactions reveal that cultural factors are likely to influence the GI–microfinance nexus."