PARTICIPATORY PROGRAMME LEARNING FOR WOMEN'S EMPOWERMENT IN MICRO-FINANCE PROGRAMMES:
WOMEN'S EMPOWERMENT AND PARTICIPATION IN MICRO-FINANCE:
EVIDENCE, ISSUES AND WAYS FORWARD
We do not only want a piece of of the pie,
we also want to choose the flavour,
and know how to make it ourselves. (Ela Bhatt, SEWA quoted Rose 1992)
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Micro-finance programmes targeting women became a major plank of donor poverty alleviation and gender strategies in the 1990s. Funding is set to further increase under current initiatives by CGAP and member donor agencies. Literature prepared for the Micro-credit Summit in Washington in 1997 and donor and NGO promotional material present an extremely attractive vision of increasing numbers of expanding, financially self-sustainable and even profitable micro-finance programmes. These are presented as not only reaching, but also empowering, large numbers of very poor women borrowers. Through their contribution to women's ability to earn an income these programmes are assumed to initiate a series of `virtuous spirals' of economic empowerment, increased well-being for women and their families and wider social and political empowerment. Most micro-finance for women is group-based, on the assumption that bringing women together in groups will be more empowering than individual lending. Funding for programmes which place prime emphasis on women's empowerment is decreasing.
Evidence suggests that micro-finance programmes do indeed have a potentially significant contribution to women's empowerment. However it also suggests this is not an automatic consequence of women's access to savings and credit or group formation per se. In many cases benefits may be marginal. Women's own interests are frequently subordinated to those of household poverty reduction and programme financial sustainability. In many cases programme staff openly state that the main motivation for targeting women is because they are perceived as more conscientious and ' docile ' clients. Unlike men they are prepared to devote considerable time and energy to group activity which decreases programme costs. Women are therefore a convenient, cost-effective and comparatively risk-free means of channeling loans to men within households and creating a savings base. In the light of the impact evidence, serious questions need to be asked about the degree to which programmes with such instrumentalist approach to female targeting merit their currently high profile on the development agenda.
This paper argues...