Gender Action Mainstreaming for Empowerment to Change

microfinance advocacy

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Institutions across the financial sector need to support continuing innovation and diversification of services to address gender inequality and discrimination as well as poverty.

‘We must improve microfinance where it fails to live up to its promise, not write it off as a failed, over-hypes fad. What is also needed is a powerful vision for outreach and impact, a vision that is clearly laid out in bold goals’ Sam Daley Harris 2006

The aim should be an inclusive financial sector with a range of financial products and nonfinancial services for women and men from different client segments, all of which are designed to remove gender discrimination of all types and promote gender justice.

regional microfinance networks

In many regions there are now networks of MFIs aiming to promote microfinance and the interests of their MFI members in relation to regulation and funding for the sector.

There has been considerable progress towars developing gender policies in the Latin American networks. There have also been a series of workshops and capacity buildings in Pakistan.

However far more is needed to ensure that these networks promote equitable access to financial services for women and work together to promote gender justice.

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the Microcredit Summit Campaign

The Microcredit Summit Campaign brings together microcredit practitioners, advocates, educational institutions, donor agencies, international financial institutions, non-governmental organizations and others involved with microcredit to promote best practices in the field, to learn from each other, and to work towards reaching our goal.

The first global Microcredit Summit was held February 2-4, 1997. A series of global summits have been held: 2002 New York, 2006 Halifax and 2011 Valladolid. Between the global Summits are Regional Summits for Africa, Asia and Latin America. For more information Click here

Not only ‘reaching’ but also ‘empowering’ women has been the second theme of the Micro-credit Summit Campaign since 1997. There are gender sessions with commissioned papers. In some Summits there have been gender trainings sponsored by the Campaign itself, UNIFEM and in 2011 by WEMAN.

However discussion of gender justice and women's empowerment in plenaries, other sessions, trainings and papers remains marginalised.

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role of donors

Donors potentially have an important role in promoting a financial sector which will comply with their own organisational mandates on gender. The aim must be to promote a diversified sector, spanning the range from commercial enterprises to NGOs, that caters to the needs of all women as well as men and does not impose unnecessary regulations and blueprints that favor particularly powerful finance lobbies or networks.

Donors can:

Facilitate and support collaboration between different rural finance providers

Promote and support the monitoring and research on gender equality and empowerment

Promote learning and capacity-building networks of practitioners and gender experts who can work together to identify, develop, and monitor good practices and innovation

Ensure that gender experts and women’s organizations are involved in designing financial regulations and consumer protection legislation to ensure that regulations do not inadvertently exclude women (for example, through definitions of ownership) and that all regulations comply with and promote gender equality of opportunity in fulfillment of international women’s human rights agreements.

Appraise the national training programmes for bankers, agriculturalists, rural development staff, and other government development staff, and assess and improve the integration of gender and participatory gender planning skills.

Promote intersectoral linkages between the financial sector, rural development planning, and other agencies promoting gender equity—particularly in relation to property rights and women’s participation in economic decision making.

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The 'big picture': policy advocacy for gender justice

Microfinance is a complementary component of, not a substitute for, a coherent agenda for women's empowerment and gender equality. Macro-economic and social policies on the informal sector, agriculture and international trade limit the degree to which poor women and men are able to benefit from microfinance. For women the constraints of poverty are compounded by gender discrimination and inequality at all levels, including property rights, family law and benefits, rights in relation to sexual violence, banking regulations and practice, licensing legislation.

Promoting an enabling environment for women's economic, social and political activities must therefore be mainstreamed as part of the advocacy and lobbying activities of microfinance programmes.

As well as advocacy and lobbying within the microfinance community, there is a need for the microfinance movement to join with other organisations to help their clients and members to organize in changing:

•  macro level economic policies that discriminate against the types of economic activity in which women are involved

•  inefficient, corrupt and costly provision of basic needs and services

•  formal legal gender discrimination and women's inability to enforce their legal rights to property and autonomy.

•  undemocratic political processes within which women cannot make their voices heard.

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Challenges and Ways Forward

Despite Innovation in gender strategies and increasing concern about 'ethical finance', gender issues remain marginal in microfinance networks, the microcredit summit campaign, donor agencies and policy advocacy. This is despite official commitments to women's human rights and empowerment and gender equity in most of the organisations concerned.

There is need for engagement by gender advocates on a number of levels:

1) promotion of the Gender Justice Protocol for Financial Services at events like the MicroCredit Summit, Village Banking Forum and meetings of national and regional microfinance networks

2) Gender trainings at these events and for individual organisations and in donor organisations

3) Gender advocacy in other sessions and presentations at these meetings to mainstream gender across the debates.

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