Does Microfinance Empower Women?

31 August 2010 at 08:22 12 comments

Julie Shea, KF12

I can’t recall a time in my life that I felt something was unattainable because I am female. I would by no means argue that women in the United States and Denmark (the two countries I call home) have achieved complete equality, but nonetheless, I have never considered myself a feminist. As I learn about the historical status of women in Peru, I’m beginning to realize that my former resistance to feminist thoughts and movements is frankly a bit ignorant.

Despite the criminalization of discrimination in 2000, women in Peru still face discrimination in the form of widespread domestic abuse, weak or nonexistent reproductive rights, and exclusion from academics, as well as from the formal economy.

CrediMujer, the microfinance institution (MFI) I’m working with here in Peru, lends exclusively to women, acknowledging that financial independence is crucial to women’s equality. CrediMujer is part of a larger organization called Manuela Ramos, which offers much more than microloans. In fact, the organization was established in 1978 with the goal of promoting women in Peruvian society, and later expanded to address problems such as domestic violence, women’s health, and gender equality. Not until 1992 did Manuela Ramos launch CrediMujer, its microfinance program. Manuela Ramos recognizes credit as a tool for development and an effective mechanism in the fight against poverty and inequality, as well as against the pattern of scarcity of resources excluding women to a greater degree than men.

One of many inspirational posters decorating the walls of Manuela Ramos, Puno. “If we want it and are taught, woman can also (do the following things)"

The organization’s solid foundation on principles of gender equality pervades their lending model. Each Community Bank meeting commences with a workshop dealing with a particular topic within financial education (and sometimes other topics such as health, equality, etc.). It is just as important that the female bank members learn how to manage their money and their business, as it is that they have access to capital. Moreover, the women are encouraged to discuss business tips with one another, as well as giving feedback to the loan officers regarding what topics they want covered. At this point in my fellowship, I have interviewed approximately 45 women, and one question I always ask them is what they enjoy most about being a member of their community bank and lending from Manuela Ramos. Most of the women with whom I have spoken express gratitude for the training workshops, explaining that they really learn useful lessons about how to manage their finances.

“Managing the money of your business: how to prevent your business from losing money”. By using hypothetical characters and situations, as well as colorful illustrations, one of the loan officers at Manuela Ramos provides basic tips for how her bank members can prevent losing revenues in their business.

There is of course still debate about the extent to which microfinance is an effective tool for combating gender inequalities (and there is no doubt variance from region to region). And admittedly, I have no way of knowing what is really going on in the homes of these women. Whether or not they are truly in control of their own financial matters I am not able to judge. But based on what I see and what I hear from the bank members, I do believe that these women’s involvement with Manuela Ramos is allowing them to take the first steps on a path towards financial independence.

Please support the female entrepreneurs of Manuela Ramos by joining the Lending Team.

Read more about Manuela Ramos/CrediMujer.

Julie Shea is a Kiva Fellow currently working with Manuela Ramos/CrediMujer in Peru. She is enjoying getting to witness the realities of microfinance on the ground, after having followed the discourse within the field from afar.

Entry filed under: blogsherpa, KF12 (Kiva Fellows 12th Class), Manuela Ramos / CrediMUJER, Peru. Tags: , , , , , .

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  • […] and their businesses.Pro Mujer, a microfinance institution in Peru that deals only with women, holds regular community meetings where women are given lectures about various social and business issues (especially budgeting […]

  • 2. Katie M.  |  1 September 2010 at 01:42

    Great post, Julie. Thanks for discussing your experience with this prevalent topic in microfinance

  • 3. Katie M.  |  1 September 2010 at 00:26

    Interesting post, Julie! Thanks for discussing your experience with this prevalent microfinance topic/debate.

  • 4. Tamara  |  31 August 2010 at 20:04

    Insightful post Julie!

  • 5. Lina  |  31 August 2010 at 19:03

    Most young women today aren’t willing to identify as feminists, primarily because they have benefited so much from the advances made by feminists that they no longer think it’s relevant.

    If more woman had a global rather than local perspective about feminism, they would realize that the cause is still incredibly important. Thanks for highlighting that.

    • 6. Aaron  |  1 September 2010 at 11:36

      In addition to that, “feminist” has a bad connotation in the States, owing partly to the Hollywood stereotype of a feminists as demanding irrational extremists who immediately change their ways when they get a makeover and a boyfriend.

      Getting back to the question of whether microfinance leading to financial and political power, I think it’s rather telling that here in the United States, women’s pre-19th-Amendment voting rights were strongest in the western half of the country, even though your big names (Anthony, Stanton, and Mott) were based in New England.

      My hypothesis is that two main factors drove this: (a) these states and territories were starting anew, so the opposition couldn’t fall back on appeals to tradition, and (b) the West was less stratified, more of a meritocracy; as long as you could provide something of value to your fellow settlers, race and sex didn’t matter so much. The countries Kiva serves fall somewhere in between. Many have strong traditions, often patriarchal, but life is difficult enough that a second income in quite valuable. I don’t expect any radical overnight changes, but simply having the ability to walk away from a bad situation and still have a roof over your head afterward gives a person plenty of leverage.

  • 7. Silver Tiger Bar  |  31 August 2010 at 14:53

    Well done, Julie – this article has inspired me to step up my efforts!

  • 8. david oglaza  |  31 August 2010 at 12:07

    A lot of research has been done which shows that MF to women is more beneficial than to men. Search on google there are lots of links.

    • 9. julieshea  |  31 August 2010 at 14:20

      Thanks for your comment David! I think there are two different questions we are talking about: 1. whether men or women benefit more from the services provided by microfinance and 2. whether microfinance can be viewed as a tool that directly contributes to decreasing gender inequality. Both are really interesting questions, and I think you can find arguments going both ways for both questions.

  • 10. Taylor  |  31 August 2010 at 11:21

    Nice work, Julie.

    The truth is, labelling yourself as a feminist is a scary thing for a lot of people. The term has become understood as someone who has adopted (what are perceived to be) radical views and behaviours. This often leads to sentences like, “I’m not a feminist, but…I believe that women should be equal to men.” This ends up being a pretty oxymoronic thing to say. How can someone have feminist values, but not be a feminist? Of course, the term is pretty occidental and we don’t necessarily want to be imposing it on other cultures.

    It looks like CrediMujer is doing an outstanding job of putting feminist values into practice: giving women equal access to credit. And good job to you for recognizing that.

    Best of luck for the rest of your time in the field.

    Kiva love,

    KF9 Togo

    • 11. Abigail  |  14 September 2010 at 05:46

      Excellent explanation. I’ve never understood the “I’m not a feminist but [insert feminist beliefs here]” habit.

  • 12. Sam  |  31 August 2010 at 09:46

    Great post Julie!

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