Micro-finance and women's empowerment
The focus on women's empowerment
and micro-finance is not
new, nor is it a Northern
imposition. Although empowerment definitions and frameworks have varied, the concern with gender equality has a long history in many countries.
It dates back
to the 1970s and the beginnings
of the international women's
movement. In the 1980s many women's
set up credit and savings
components as a way of
both enabling women to
increase their incomes
and come together to
address wider gender issues. In the 1990s micro-finance targeting women expanded rapidly because of evidence of higher loan repayment by women. In promotional literature it is frequently stated that women will be empowered by these services.
Since 1997 the
second official goal of
the MicroCredit Summit
Campaign has been not
only 'reaching women' but
'empowering' them. All donor agencies in CGAP
have a gender policy. Most governments are signatories of the Convention on Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).
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Evidence of Gender Impact
Gender impact assessments of credit programmes were conducted in India in the 1970s and already raised many concerns about the effects of increasing indebtedness and limited impact on incomes. Since then there have been many gender impact studies in different countries. The a range of different frameworks and methodologies together with inherent challenges of gender research make any firm comparative conclusions difficult.
Most studies find that some
women, including some very
poor women, have been able
to set up enterprises, bring
about change in gender relations
in the household and become
leaders in their community.
the evidence indicates that
all the linkages assumed between
women's access to financial services and empowerment need
to be questioned.
An important gap in gender impact studies is any consideration of potential negative gender impacts of financial services for men in diverting male income from household wellbeing and consolidating their ownership of household assets and resources.
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