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Microfinance and gender

microfinance and gender

Centre for Development Studies

University of Bath


Identifying the problem

Recognising gender issues in microfinance, as in any project intervention, means more than targeting a programme towards women. It means recognising the position of women in relation to men as actors in society: in the context of husbands and families; local community and authority and more broadly their position in society at the national level as governed by laws and custom. Then it is necessary to act to support women to overcome the obstacles they face in these relationships which prevent them from achieving what they wish for themselves with financial services.

In order to tackle gender in microfinance it is necessary to recognise and approach it from the outset. In recent years the success of some microfinance institutions in enlisting large numbers of women as their members has suggested that microfinance is an intervention uniquely beneficial to the needs of women. This is not so. Microfinance, no more than any other intervention, is not blessed with the ability to right the power imbalances which result from inequalities in the way society treats men and women. It may be able to make such a contribution, but to do so requires a clear commitment and strategic approach

to ensuring that it does.

The matrix below identifies constraints which women face in different areas and which can constrain their ability to utilise microfinance to the ends they might wish. These constraints interact and reinforce each other:
    Individual level refers to constraints that operate because of the woman's own endowment of skills, experience, knowledge, confidence.

Household refers to the nexus of social relations within the household which are mostly talked of in relation to husbands and wives but usually the household is a broader unit which acts through sons and daughters, parents and other relatives to constrain the set of choices which a woman faces

It is often the case that analysis stops at the level of the household in the discussion of credit but it is important to recognise the constraints that the wider society imposes in terms of norms of behaviour, legal rights and perceptions of the value of what women do.

The matrix below combines constraints identified from a wide range of cultural contexts and would need to be systematically worked through for a specific cultural context. Once they have been identified, strategies to address them can be developed.

Figure 1: Gender based obstacles in Microfinance and Microenterprise

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