Gender Action Mainstreaming for Empowerment to Change

groups to movement

Group-based savings and credit has been seen as a key innovation, combining efficiency with empowerment. Most female-targeted programmes and services are group-based. Groups can be a powerful force for change at the local level and for lobbying and advocacy at the national level.

Although MFIs clearly benefit from providing savings and credit services to women’s groups, participation does not necessarily guarantee empowerment.

A key issue for the microfinance movement is how to build on the networks and relationships built around both group-based and individual financial services as the basis for a movement for gender transformation and empowerment.

Is participation always empowering?

Many types of group-based delivery have evolved, with varying degrees of control and function. For example, groups may be responsible for client identification, savings collection and loan disbursal, loan follow-up and repayment, mutual guarantees for loans, product design, more cost-effective service delivery, and pressuring peers to establish and maintain credit discipline.

In some contexts, microfinance programmes may provide one of the few regular excuses for women to meet with other women to discuss problems. In urban areas where there is rapid population expansion caused by conflict or natural disasters, microfinance groups may provide a very necessary structure for building networks and ‘social capital'.

However, serious questions must be asked about the types of participation being promoted, the underlying motivation and whose interests are being served.

Participation has inherent costs for both programmes and clients. In many programmes participation means little more than women's contribution of time and resources to reduce the costs and risks to programme administration and donors. Significantly, microfinance programmes rarely make such large demands on men's time and where they do so are generally unsuccessful.

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Participation without groups

The equation of participation with group formation also gives the impression that participation is irrelevant in individual lending programmes.

However even here, providing an efficient service requires programmes to be ' market relevant ' through having detailed knowledge of clients needs. A participatory consultative process is needed to see how products and services can be improved. Some form of client representation is also needed in order to maximise positive and avoid negative impacts of financial services.

There are ways in which these relationships can be built on as part of a wider change process. For example:

  • provision of literature for clients to read and disseminate
  • providing contacts between clients to form study groups on different issues
  • linkages with local and national media

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micro-finance and women's land rights

Property rights are fundamental to women’s ability to access and benefit from finance.  Within the financial sustainability literature, women’s equal property rights are explicitly regarded as an essential part of the enabling environment for gender and microfinance.

A number of rural microfinance programmes have provided the basis for increasing women’s ownership of land and women’s property rights.

This is in addition to development of specific products like Grameen Bank’s Housing loan and land leasing products.

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Microfinance and women's policital participation

Women's political participation is essential to making their voice heard in policy formation. Women’s participation in group-based rural finance programmes can increase their awareness of wider political processes and their leadership capacities to participate in politics. By increasing the participation of half the population, microfinance programmes can significantly contribute to improving local governance and developing democratic systems.

In South Asia many organizations are involved in promoting women’s leadership in local council bodies. SEWA promotes women’s unions and organizations. Grameen Bank and other MFIs in Bangladesh disseminated voter education material to women through their organization before the last elections.

In Africa, CARE–Niger has been very effective in developing women’s leadership to compete in local elections.

A number of microfinance programmes have developed other innovations to put their women’s groups at the forefront of citizenship development in rural areas through linkages with Rural Information Centres. When managed by women’s self-help groups or cluster organizations, the centres often can be managed effectively for the community.

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Innovation and key questions

The networks and relationships built around both group-based and individual financial services as the basis for a movement for gender transformation and empowerment. Some microfinance programmes have organised locally on a range of issues like domestic violence, alcoholism and for gender awareness-raising.

A number of GAMEchange Network MFI partners like LEAP in Sudan and Bukonzo Joint Microfinance Cooperative in Uganda have used the GALS methodology to develop women and men's organisational capacity, promote women's economic rights and increase women's participation in decision-making at all levels.

Area Networking and Development Initiatives (ANANDI) facilitates “area networking” through events or fairs (melas) which bring together representatives of their self-help groups. The melas have proved an extremely powerful means of stimulating discussion, mutual learning, and collective action between women. Melas have been used for leadership training, for raising awareness of the political process, and for bringing attention to other issues like food security, ethnic diversity, and culture.

Key issues for GAMEchange Network partners are:

  • To further develop the GALS methodology, combined with wider networking and advocacy and upscale as a movement for change
  • How to adapt the methodology to the context of individual lending and banks through eg promotion of client study groups
  • To link the change process with sustainable mechanisms for dissemination like radio, local newsletters and mainstreaming in government services.
  • To upscale from local change process to national level advocacy through collaboration with national MFI networks.

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